Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa...and Me: My Improbable Journey from Châteaux in France to the Slums of CalcuttaEthel Merman, Mother Teresa...and Me: My Improbable Journey from Châteaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta by Tony Cointreau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! And I highly recommend it to: anyone in a book club (great discussion opportunities within), anyone who is a fan of Ethel Merman or Mother Teresa, anyone who is poor wishing they were rich, anyone who wishes they were loved more as a child, anyone who wants to serve and love others … to anyone: I recommend this book.

This memoir is beautifully written. It is captivating, heart-breaking, haunting, and inspiring.

I honestly had no idea who Tony Cointreau was when this book was offered to me for review, but the title caught me: Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa … And Me

I wanted to know how Ethel Merman and Mother Teresa could share the title of a book. I wanted to know the details of that story.

And an interesting story it is.

It’s about a boy of financial privilege who learns that money, in fact, cannot bring true joy or love into your life. However, championing people in their most vulnerable moments with generosity and kindness … can … and does bring true joy and love into not only your life, but also the lives of others.

Not everyone is able to learn this, and this memoir is peppered with so many suicides of Tony’s friends, acquaintances, and relatives that I lost count of how many lives were lost as a direct result of sadness.

On page two he describes the privileges his mother enjoyed. “Even when she went for a stroll, the chauffeur followed her slowly with the car, in case she tired.” And then later, even after all of his self-enlightenment, Tony writes on page 203, “I felt quite ecstatic about flying first class halfway around the world, landing in a marble palace, and preparing to offer my services to the poorest of the poor dying in Nirmal Hriday—“Home of the Pure Heart.” What’s wrong with this picture? Maybe nothing. I certainly believe my motives were pure. Until then I had only known first class, marble palaces, and high tea, so it seemed perfectly natural to be staying in that environment, without realizing the irony of the situation.” But as Mother Teresa so clearly told Tony later, “… even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own …” (page 243).

That’s the truth of this memoir: we all want to be loved and wanted for who we are.

However, there is even more to this memoir. There is so much rich history and emotional story telling. I gasped and cried more than once.

On page 23, Tony writes of his maternal grandmother, “… she had been on the streets of Paris with her two children when a German aeroplane overhead dropped a bomb that exploded on the sidewalk in front of her, killing two women.”

And then on page 36 he writes of his paternal grandparents, who had left their chateau when the Germans occupied it, finally returning to their home. “The next morning when my grandparents entered the gates they were elated to see dozens of American soldiers asleep in the fields next to the house. They approached to greet the men with open arms before they realized that they were all dead.”

In addition to personalizing the details of war and history, Tony also addresses tough topics such as sexual abuse and homosexuality.

If you are someone who has not come to terms with the fact that child abuse exists and influences lives in very deep ways, you may not want to read this book, or you may just want to skip the mere three and a half pages in the chapter titled “My Annus Horribilis” where the author acknowledges his own personal horror that happened to him as a child. I hate reading and thinking about it, but the author did a great job of presenting the facts of what happened without going on and on in unnecessary details. He also did a great job of presenting his feelings about being gay without going into unnecessary details. I respect the fact that he has been on a lifelong search for love, peace, and happiness. We all have to choose our own paths as we search for these things in our own lives.

So what do Ethel Merman and Mother Teresa have in common? According to Tony, they both laughed, and they both made you feel like you were the only person in the world who mattered. They genuinely shared love.

As Mother Teresa is quoted on page 213, “If we look around us we will surely find someone in need. We needn’t go halfway around the world to be of service. There are people everywhere starving for our love.”

And on page 243, Mother Teresa is quoted again, “Be kind, show kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile. … To all who suffer and are lonely, give always a happy smile.”

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