Thursday, April 21, 2011

Next of Kin: A Book Review

Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen is the editor and founder of Prissy Mag, and the author of the novel Stockdale.  You may have read her Black Paris Profile™ here last November.  I am pleased to present a review of her latest book – Next of Kin.


Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen’s Next of Kin provides a stark and poignant look at how death can reveal the dark side of family relationships. It is the story of the sudden passing of her father, Eddie, and what she experienced upon returning to her hometown of Heflin, Alabama from her expatriate home in Paris in the aftermath of his death.

Next of Kin book jacket

Shock, confusion, sadness, and guilt are among the emotions that Lalisse-Jespersen vividly portrays in the opening pages of this brief book (66 pages). As the only child of a man whose marriage with her mother ended in divorce and who left home when she was two years of age, we can only imagine what had transpired to build the strong father-daughter bond that she felt at the time of Eddie’s death. The decisions to be made about which members of her family in France (her husband and two children) would make the trip back to the U.S. and when to leave, the anxiety over seeing the exact place where her father died, and the hostility that she felt from relatives whom she had not seen in months to years were only the beginning of her story. She would soon learn that one of her relatives – a cousin named May – would turn out to be an ingratiating, self-serving, and dishonest person who systematically eliminated Priscilla from the list of persons who could access information about her father during his illness. For Eddie had cancer and was unable to speak, and May was his primary caregiver.

The planning of the funeral was the next ordeal that Lalisse-Jespersen describes. The type of service, confusion regarding its date, and importantly, the decision about how much each family member would contribute toward the cost were all part of the unsettling experience for her. She describes the funeral as unreal, particularly because her husband was not there to support her.

The story takes a turn for the better after the funeral. Relatives (excluding May) were suddenly open and honest about things, and Lalisse-Jespersen was able to make progress with settling her father’s estate before going back to Paris. Over several weeks, she was able to re-establish a routine of sorts, and began to cope with her loss. Then, another dreaded phone call…this time, she was informed that Eddie’s mother had died.

Next of Kin resonates for several reasons. All expatriates with family connections “at home” dread the phone call in the middle of the night. The longer we are away, the less cognizant we are of the daily happenings that slowly change a loved one’s life. Unless we are single and independently wealthy, it is generally not feasible to go back and forth frequently between our expatriate home and our original home in the event of a serious illness in our immediate family. Yet this contributes to feelings of guilt at not being able to provide care when that person dies.

Any expatriate who has not yet experienced these circumstances and emotions has simply not been away long enough. One cannot read Next of Kin and not be moved.

Despite the theme of love and loss, readers will find hope and inspiration in Next of Kin. The fact that Lalisse-Jespersen was so distressed over the circumstances surrounding her father’s death stemmed from the warm, loving relationship that she was able to establish with him after reconnecting with him during her college years. The epilogue of the book speaks briefly and lovingly of her twenty-year journey in getting to know him.

Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen
Photo courtesy of Prissy Mag

Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen wrote Next of Kin as a tribute to her father. Half of the revenue generated by sales of the book is being donated to the Joe Lee Griffin Hope Lodge, which offers accommodation at no cost for cancer patients in the Birmingham, Alabama area.


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