On Chapel Sands: The Mystery of My Mother's Disappearance as a Child (Paperback)
NOMINATED FOR THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR AUTOBIOGRAPHY
ONE OF NPR'S BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
SHORTLISTED FOR THE RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZE
LONGLISTED FOR THE RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE
The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Velazquez shares a riveting true story “with as many twists and turns as any mystery” (Los Angeles Times) describing her mother’s mysterious kidnapping as a toddler in a small English coastal village—“an incredible and incredibly unusual book about family secrets” (Nick Hornby, The Believer).
In the fall of 1929, when Laura Cumming’s mother was three years old, she was kidnapped from a beach on the Lincolnshire coast of England. There were no screams when she was taken, suggesting the culprit was someone familiar to her, and when she turned up again in a nearby village several days later, she was happy and in perfect health. No one was ever accused of a crime. The incident quickly faded from her memory, and her parents never discussed it. To the contrary, they deliberately hid it from her, and she did not learn of it for half a century.
This was not the only secret her parents kept from her. For many years, while raising her in draconian isolation and protectiveness, they also hid the fact that she’d been adopted, and that shortly after the kidnapping, her name was changed from Grace to Betty.
“Both page-turning and richly absorbing” (The Providence Journal), On Chapel Sands (originally titled Five Days Gone) unspools the tale of Cumming’s mother’s life and unravels the multiple mysteries at its core. Using photographs from the time, historical documents, and works of art, Cumming investigates this case of stolen identity with the toolset of a detective and the unique intimacy of a daughter trying to understand her family’s past and its legacies. “Brilliant” (The Guardian) and “a story told with such depth of feeling and observation and such lyrical writing I couldn’t put it down” (Anna Quindlen), On Chapel Sands is a masterful blend of memoir and history, an extraordinary personal narrative unlike any other.
About the Author
Laura Cumming has been the art critic of The Observer (London) since 1999. Previously, she was arts editor of the New Statesman magazine, literary editor of the Listener, and deputy editor of Literary Review. She is a former columnist for the Herald and has contributed to the London Evening Standard, The Guardian, L’Express, and Vogue. Her book The Vanishing Velazquez was longlisted for the Bailie Gifford Prize and was a New York Times bestseller.
Praise for Five Days Gone
"This is an incredible, and incredibly unusual, book about family, secrets, the ruinous sexual shame and hypocrisy of the first half of the English twentieth century. It’s one of the best memoirs I have ever read... There is so much about [Five Days Gone] that moves; there is so much about it that educates. It is, and will remain a favorite, to be re-read one day, to be recommended to anyone who will listen."
—Nick Hornby, The Believer
“Reads like a thriller…Questions and lies abound in this touching book about a daughter’s quest to help her aging mother uncover her true identity.”
“A satisfying mystery that could have been grist for Agatha Christie's mill. [Cumming’s] nuanced, pensive account restores reality and vitality to figures from out of the past, making them meaningful while uncovering their secrets.”
—The New Yorker
"A story told with such depth of feeling and observation and such lyrical writing that I have been unable to put it down... Cumming is an art critic, and in this book she has created a great mural of words, filled with people so tangible you almost expect them to swivel on the page and look at you. And the great mystery turns out to be, not what happened on that beach to one little girl, but how all of us sometimes stumble, sometimes soar, through courage, strength and love."
"Brilliant... Cumming is adept in knowing how much to disclose and when to hold back... The book is a love letter to her mother, whose warmth, articulacy and survival instincts shine through."
“One of the most compelling memoirs of recent years, a book with as many twists and turns as any mystery, a family history of great emotional resonance… It’s an extraordinary story, and an even better book.”
—The Los Angeles Times
"Laura Cumming's tale of pictures, secrets and the strange disappearance of her mother is an outstanding achievement... Enthralling... Much more than a search for truth. It is a moving, many-sided human story of great depth and tenderness, and a revelation of how art enriches life. In short, a masterpiece."
—Sunday Times (UK)