Another Mother is not only a memoir about the author’s life, but also includes a condensed biography of Dezna Sanderson, the woman hired by his parents to care for him and his sister when they were children. Why would a Jewish American man growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, be so invested in discovering his Jamaican nanny’s past?
Before I started reading this book, I actually assumed one of Ross Urken’s parents, or at least one of his grandparents, must be from Jamaica. He had recently hosted a book launch in Kingston, to which my own mother had been and purchased my copy, so it was a logical explanation for his deep connection to our country.
Once I had read a couple chapters, which (by the way) are named after some of Bob Marley’s lyrics, I realized that I had jumped to conclusions way too quickly – Urken is not part-Jamaican. However, his keen interest in our island is clear as the Jamaican manners, patois and cuisine, which Dezna instilled on her young charge, are lovingly demonstrated in his prose. In fact, what this author learned from her as a child, he carried straight into adulthood and proudly flits between the two throughout the book.
Amidst his literary prowess, it becomes apparent that once Dezna passed away, the adult Ross begins to pursue his quest to unravel the truth about Dezna’s past. Through happenstance, Ross meets some Jamaican Jews in New York and uses this as an excuse to go to Jamaica on an exploration to find old Jewish graves across the land of wood and water. When they hit Black River in St. Elizabeth, he sneaks off to meet some of Dezna’s children and so begins the journey to acquiring an entire new family he now calls his own.
Near the end of this story, but undoubtedly not the end of his life’s story, Ross makes reference to the book Are You My Mother? Indeed, Dezna was his second mother, so I suppose Ross Kenneth Urken is part-Jamaican.