Daughter of Spies

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Longlisted for the 2022 Memoir Magazine Book Awards

2022 Bronze Medal Winner, Memoir Category, Living Now Awards

Runner Up, Memoir, New England Book Festival

As a child, Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop, along with her five brothers, was raised to revere the tribal legends of the Alsop and Roosevelt families. Her parents’ marriage, lived in the spotlight of 1950s Washington where the author’s father, journalist Stewart Alsop, grew increasingly famous, was not what either of her parents had imagined it would be. Her mother’s strict Catholicism and her father’s restless ambition collided to create a strangely muted and ominous world, one that mirrored the whispered conversations in the living room as the power brokers of Washington came and went through their side door. Through it all, her mother, trained to keep secrets as a decoding agent with MI5, said very little. In this brave memoir, the author explores who her mother was, why alcohol played such an important role in her mother’s life, and why her mother held herself apart from all her children, especially her only daughter. In the author’s journey to understand her parents, particularly her mother, she comes to realize that the secrets parents keep are the ones that reverberate most powerfully in the lives of their children.

Praise for Daughter of Spies

“Daughter of Spies is a fascinating trip to a country—and a capital—that no longer exists. Part memoir, part elegiac tribute to the author’s mother, it is also the story of an extraordinary family that had a powerful influence upon the political and social life of postwar Washington, D.C.  In Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop’s book, the Georgetown set comes back to life.”

-Gregg Herken, author of The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington

“Exercising meticulous espionage, Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop gives us a revelatory memoir of the marriage between her famous columnist father and her British mother, who transcribed and interpreted enemy code as a girl. Read Daughter of Spies not only for a surprising angle on Vietnam era Georgetown, but as an acute and heart-wrenching self- portrait of a daughter who insistently loves a difficult mother without breaking her pledge to her own autonomy.”

-Honor Moore, author of Our Revolution, a Mother and Daughter at Midcentury

“Tish Alsop was a charming, beautiful, well-born war bride of a handsome, dashing, brainy war hero-turned-famous-journalist. They lived together at the center of an elite social group, the ‘Georgetown set,’ at a time when Washington basically ran the world. But Tish, while brave and stoic, was often lonely and sad and, at times, silently, secretly, desperate. Her daughter, Elizabeth, has written a moving memoir, at once chilling and loving, of her lifelong search for her mother.”

-Evan Thomas, author of The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA

“A beautifully written, deeply honest, memoir. The tales of London during the blitz, and the inside look at the author’s family life when her parents lived at the center of power in Cold War Washington are both compelling and revealing. Most of all, Winthrop illuminates her mother’s life with poignancy, sympathy and understanding while chronicling with clarity their often complicated relationship.”

-Stephen Schlesinger, author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala

 “It is an extraordinary challenge for anyone to write a compelling, emotionally honest, personal memoir. To write one in parallel with the public life of a nation that unspools alongside—in this case, much of the 20th-century history of our country—is almost unimaginably difficult. Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop, in Daughter of Spies, a recounting of her parents’ long marriage as well as her family’s prominent role in the affairs of postwar America, has managed this brilliantly, and has done so with perception, wit, humor and enormous compassion. This is the story of a family through the lens of history. Intensely moving, and beautifully done.”

-Geoffrey Douglas, author of Class: The Wreckage of an American Family 

“As a fellow Washingtonian and the offspring of an FBI agent and a CIA librarian, I found that Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop captures perfectly the sinister atmosphere of Cold War Washington. This multilayered memoir takes us on a rich, cinematic journey of great depth and power.”

Tim Gunn author of Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making it Work

 “This is a fine, tautly controlled memoir of a daughter’s wrestling with her ambivalence about her glamorous parents’ problems and deceptions. The writer’s a child of an English mother who works for MI5 and a dashing yet distant OSS American father who, in World War II, parachutes into France to fight behind the lines with the Resistance. Growing up in a teeming Washington D.C. house filled with a maze of secrets, Elizabeth Winthrop’s candid, graceful choreography brings the reader to an inspiring emotional conclusion—it is possible to appreciate, even love our parents’ flaws as well as their virtues.”

Robert Seidman, author of Moments Captured

 “While deftly evoking the glamour of high society, both in London and in Washington DC, and the tight-lipped secrecy born of war-time espionage – MI 5 and CIA are almost household entities in this family – Elizabeth Winthrop tells how her mother Tish Alsop, having married her American sweetheart at eighteen, had to cope with twelve—twelve!—successive pregnancies and how she struggled with loneliness and addiction, yet maintained her ironic humor to the end.  As a daughter, Winthrop is compassionate and clear-eyed; as a writer, she is elegant, even-handed, witty, and incisive, showing that no amount of privilege can protect a woman from misery, and that a stiff upper lip is no solution to pain. The last pages are almost unbearably poignant.  Among the chronicles of mother-daughter relationships, this fine memoir gives a fierce lesson in empathy.”

-Rosalind Brackenbury, author of Without Her and Becoming George Sand

 “Winthrop is a charming writer, and the pages fly by in this profound history of an American family. It starts as a WWII spy story and becomes an intimate portrait of the Washington, D.C. elite in the 1950s and 60s—but throughout it is also an exploration of a relationship with an aging and troubled parent. Daughter of Spies is funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully honest.”

-Adam Gidwitz, award-winning author of The Inquisitor’s Tale

“What a superb storyteller Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop is. Daughter of Spies is not only a revealing biography of powerful Washington journalist Stewart Alsop and his troubled wife, Tish. It is also a poignant memoir of a daughter emotionally abandoned by her parents. The story—so evocative—will make you both sad and angry, but you’ll keep turning pages.”

-Douglas Waller, author of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage