Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries

One of my favorite films is a little known gem of the iconic duo, Merchant-Ivory. The film,
A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, is the semi-autobiographical life sketch of Kaylie Jones, daughter of the classic American novelist, James Jones. Ms. Jones, herself an author, penned the text from which the film was made (same title). I read the book after I saw the film and was particularly attracted to the family’s experience of raising ex-patriot children, having had the same experience. Our children were raised in the country of Italy, where they matriculated for many years in Italian schools. The Jones family did likewise, but in the country of France. Where the Jones (Willis) family life takes a particularly interesting twist is in the adoption of a young French boy, whom they call ‘Billy’, after the dad in the film, Bill Willis.

Known for beautiful cinematography, this Merchant-Ivory film, is captivating to look at. The cast of characters are also beautiful ~ Kris Kristofferson, Barbara Hershey, Leelee Sobieski. Such beauty can make it difficult to see, at first view, the ugliness that lies under the surface. When the family returns to the U.S. for medical treatment for the dad who develops a serious heart condition, the process of re-patriating brings about a painful but necessary time of discovery ~ both for the family and for each member individually.

Not wishing to be a spoiler, I will say that the film left me hanging in the sense that I wondered what happened to the young girl and boy in particular, in terms of their future. Did they stay in the U.S. or return to France? What happened to the parents?

The film was produced in 1998, several years after the family returned to the U.S. Just released this month is Kaylie Jone’s actual autobiography, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, which picks up where "A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries" left off. I read the book in its entirety over the weekend and was not disappointed.

Though Ms. Jones’ memoir does not flinch from sharing very intimate details of her family and their struggles, especially regarding her relationship with her mother, it also contains some interesting detail about her famous father’s writing style, how he wrote, how he developed a story line.

As a war veteran himself, the storylines of From Here to Eternity and A Thin Red Line were written from personal experience. The family had several famous writers as friends: Richard Wright, Irwin Shaw, James Baldwin, William Styron, to name just a few, many of whom were a part of the Jones’ family life in France. Though the life of this woman may seem glamorous, it was not without its pain. It seems she found a kindred spirit in the life of another daughter of a famous writer, Jill Faulkner Summers. She shares this quote from the daughter of William Faulkner:

It was just before my birthday and I knew that Pappy was getting ready to start one of these bouts. I went to him – the only time I ever did – and said, “Please don’t start drinking.” And he was already well on his way, and he turned to me and said, “You know, no one remembers Shakespeare’s child.”


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