Protean Press, 2010
4 ½ out of 5 stars
Kipling’s Cat is the true story of Jeffries Wyman, a roving Boston scientist, as seen through the eyes of his admiring daughter, Boston Globe travel writer Anne Cabot Wyman. For those of you who have never heard of Jeffries Wyman (I suppose that is most of you) here is all you need to know: he was a good guy, an accomplished scientist, and he’s been to more countries than I’ll probably ever be lucky enough to point to on a map.
It is ultimately a refreshing, wonderfully written diary of a woman who admires her father and sees him through a lens that is both pure and pretentious; a celebration of a man whose life was filled with happiness and adventure. Jeffries Wyman is enigmatic, like the Great Gatsby, a man living the American dream, legendary and eclectic, and above all a genuine old sport. And like Gatsby, Wyman is mysteriously disconnected from those closest to him. His passion for traveling the wonders of the world drove Wyman from his family – but only in a physical sense. He left them but did not abandon them, and his children know their father mostly through the many letters he wrote, and the romantic image of himself that his words created.
What unfolds is an exploration of Wyman’s life as an accomplished hematologist, diplomat, artist and father. The author paints a picture of a relatively comfortable life, filled with house servants, sailing expeditions, viola lessons, dinner parties with Harvard colleagues, and names like Cabot, Forbes and Oppenheimer. Filled with charming and amusing anecdotes of his travels and family life, at its core, Kipling’s Cat is a father-daughter story that many can relate to, a story of a girl who is constantly trying to connect with a father who is rarely around and always on an adventure. I can relate. My father traveled a lot for work, to all corners of the globe, to exotic places I will probably only dream of visiting. Anne Cabot Wyman’s stories of her father beg us to reflect on our own mothers and fathers. It made me wonder if my parents have any old love letters stashed away….? And when I am gone, will my daughter admire me enough to write a book about my life?
The essence of Kipling’s Cat is something we do not see enough of: parents and children getting along. The book made me strive to keep close ties to my family and to be a great father, a daily challenge. When I think about Jeffries Wyman I see an eccentric who captured his adventures in vivid watercolor, a man whose nature prevented him from ever settling down but in the end, a man who cared deeply about his family.
Kipling’s Cat and other titles are available from the catalog of Protean Press.
Much more about Kipling’s Cat and Jeffries Wyman available here.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, December 2009.