Author Jeff Wallach's real-life story reflected in new book
You can imagine Jeff Wallach's surprise when his mother revealed the family secret.
"When I was 50, my mother said something to me about loving golf and whiskey so much because of my Scottish heritage," the Portland author said. "I said, 'What?'"
Wallach thought he was 100% Jewish with relatives from Russia and Poland.
"She said, 'Yeah, your great-grandfather, the Scotsman.' It had been a family secret for decades. I did a DNA test, and found out I was 12% Scottish." Apparently, his great-grandfather married into a very religious Jewish family and was an outcast and died young at 34. "Nobody spoke of him again," Wallach said.
A former freelance journalist, Wallach wrote golf books and then set out to write a DNA treasure hunt story based on his own experience of mistaken heritage. "Having spent time in Scotland and Ireland, I turned it into Irish heritage, because they're funnier," Wallach said.
He'll do a virtual reading from the second of the books, "Everyone Here Is From Somewhere Else" (Open Books, $19.95, Kindle $9.95), at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 17 — St. Patrick's Day.
Check out http://www.annieblooms.com.
The story: Two brothers, Phillip and Spencer, learn in middle age that their father, or the person they were led to believe was their father, actually was not. A genetic treasure hunt takes them to various places, trying to figure out who their father is and who they are and what that means.
Many scenes from the book are set in Portland, including Coquine, Lone Fir Cemetery, Central Library, Hawthorne, Hot Lips Pizza, Greater Trumps, Three Doors Down, Laurelhurst Park and many others.
The first book, "Mr. Wizard," introduces the brothers and the story of using DNA to learn of their upbringing. The second one expands on the story, looking forward and backward in the lives of the characters.
"All that said, it's a comedy," Wallach said.
The mother in the book says offhandedly to one of her sons, "You should watch your drinking, being Irish," akin to Wallach's real-life discovery. In the book, it wasn't sure whether mom was going nuts or the comment was the truth.
"They were led to believe that they were Jewish, and 'What are we now, Irish Jews?'" he said. "She names the town in Ireland — Ballydraiocht — and a golf pro. Two days later she's dead. Phillip goes and takes a DNA test, and finds out, in fact, he's half Irish. He calls his brother (Spencer), and they talk about whether their mother is hiding the truth or misdirecting them. The other brother two weeks later calls him back and said interestingly enough, 'I'm not half Irish.' So, 'Oh my god, we have different fathers.'"
In addition to being a freelance journalist and writing five nonfiction books (four on golf, one on river guiding), Wallach once worked in various capacities at Lewis & Clark College. Lately, he has been able to write books, based on some real estate investing. He's originally from New York and has lived in Portland for about 30 years.
Wallach said, based on his own experience and his books, be wary of what you might find from a DNA test.
"Depends on your personality. The research I did for the book, I came across a lot of people and did talks for genealogical societies," he said. "You have to be prepared to get surprised when you don't want to be surprised.
"There's a Facebook page dedicated to people who discovered a parent wasn't their parent. For some, it works out great, they have a new family. Others are devastated, 'The man I lived with actually was not my father.'
"People find out that families traditionally have secrets. For thousands of years, there was no way to find out. Today, they can find out secrets and maybe find out answers. It's a very powerful tool."
For more, see http://www.jeffwallach.com.
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