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Whiskey Breakfast

My Swedish Family, My American Life

2011
Author:

Richard C. Lindberg

Whiskey Breakfast

A poignant, multigenerational tale of the Swedish-American experience for two disparate Chicago families

Whiskey Breakfast is Richard C. Lindberg’s captivating tale of life as a first-generation baby-boomer Swedish American. Masterfully blending autobiography with immigrant history, Whiskey Breakfast surrounds Lindberg’s family story with Swedish cultural history and politics, as well as remarkable Chicago history and how Clark Street and Swedetown became a center of Swedish immigrants’ social and cultural life.

Richard Lindberg does not spare himself or his ancestors in this poignant and powerful memoir of his family’s entry to the United States. I was reminded of the great cycle of emigrant novels by Vilhelm Moberg, the noted Swedish novelist I first read and so admired in my youth, who wrote vividly and sometimes brutally of the downtrodden classes of his forebears. Lindberg evokes the same haunted landscape of poverty and superstition from which his ancestors fled to America . . . only to suffer different demons in that new land. In the end his story is a redemptive one of endurance and survival.

Harry Mark Petrakis

Chicago in the 1920s: Clark Street was the city’s last Swedetown, a narrow corridor of weather-beaten storefronts, coal yards, and taverns running along the north side of the city and the locus of Swedish community life in Chicago during the first half of the twentieth century. It represented a way station for a generation of working-class immigrants escaping the hardships of the old country for the promise of a brighter new day in a halfway house of sorts, perched between the old and new lands. For Richard C. Lindberg, whose Swedish immigrant parents and grandparents settled there, it was also the staging ground for an intensely personal, multigenerational, coming-of-age drama based on the struggles of two disparate families—their dreams and their depravities, their victories and their failures.

Whiskey Breakfast is Lindberg’s captivating tale of life as a first-generation baby-boomer Swedish American, caught between the customs of a land he had never been to and the desire to conform and fit into a troubled existence, tragically scarred by alcoholism, divorce, and peer abuse. But it is also a powerful and intimate portrait of his immigrant ancestors, and especially of his father, Oscar—a contractor and master builder who helped develop Chicago’s post–World War II suburbs. A paradoxical man, known to some as a socialist, an anarchist, and a serious drinker, Oscar would carry with him to the grave a sixty-two-year-old family secret, a secret that for Lindberg lies at the very heart of the great Swedish unrest that drove his father and countless other men and women out of Sweden and onward to America.

Masterfully blending autobiography with immigrant history, Whiskey Breakfast surrounds Lindberg’s family story with Swedish cultural history and politics, as well as remarkable Chicago history and how Clark Street and Swedetown became, and in many ways remain, a center of Swedish immigrants’ social and cultural life. Far from a eulogy for an idealized past, Lindberg has crafted a moving and sobering memoir of a young man’s struggle to come to terms with his father and himself, his immigrant heritage, and his native home.

Awards

Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Winner

Whiskey Breakfast

Richard C. Lindberg is the author of fifteen books, including The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago’s Democratic Machine, winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award for the best biography of 2009. He has given commentary and historical interpretation on local and national radio and television programs, such as American Justice, Cities of the Underworld, History’s Mysteries, Masterminds, and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. He continues to reside in Chicago.

Whiskey Breakfast

Richard Lindberg does not spare himself or his ancestors in this poignant and powerful memoir of his family’s entry to the United States. I was reminded of the great cycle of emigrant novels by Vilhelm Moberg, the noted Swedish novelist I first read and so admired in my youth, who wrote vividly and sometimes brutally of the downtrodden classes of his forebears. Lindberg evokes the same haunted landscape of poverty and superstition from which his ancestors fled to America . . . only to suffer different demons in that new land. In the end his story is a redemptive one of endurance and survival.

Harry Mark Petrakis

Deep, introspective and somber, this is by far Lindberg’s most personal book to date.

Kirkus Reviews

Whiskey Breakfast, in its way [is] a chilling title for what is ultimately a slightly chilling, remarkably honest and redemptive story.

Chicago Tribune

Whiskey Breakfast is a masterpiece of family memoir, a dense tale well told, often poetic and ultimately redemptive.

Newcity

Whiskey Breakfast

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction

1. Sweden and the Sorrows
2. Two Men from Swedetown
3. The Opposite Sides of the Tracks
4. The Shadows of Despair
5. Feeding the Sparrows
6. Oscar and Evelyn and Charley
7. A Picnic, a Proposal, a Passage
8. Charity Begins at Home
9. The Crying Game
10. The House That Was Not a Home
11. The Shook-up Generation
12. Custody Visits
13. Slam Books and Second Chances
14. A Child of Clubland
15. The Taming of the Swede
16. Love Is for Barflies
17. A Worker of the World
18. Ashes to Ashes—and Back to Ronneby
19. A Wayne King Lullaby

Epilogue
Postscript

Whiskey Breakfast

UMP blog - "The longest journey of any person is the journey inward."

Twenty-two years ago I had an idea for a book about my enigmatic father, the radical socialist Oscar Lindberg. It would be a book that blends memoir with a history of Swedish immigration to Chicago framed through the lens of two disparate families, those of my mother and my father. I had invented a title for this book back in 1989 – Whiskey Breakfast – then fretted that some other author would take it. Thankfully, that did not happen.

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