Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory
by Gerald Nicosia

Reviewed by Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo

No one asks to be born. We are all thrown into life without our consent. No parent can pick a child, nor a child parents. It’s all chance, a “cosmic game”. You take whatever you are given without any choice. There is no other way.

To be born the child of someone like Jack Kerouac is a cross to bear to say the least; part ecstatic pride and joy; part painful dark unsolvable emotions. Jan was born unwanted; unplanned. The “soon to be famous” father denied her birth from the beginning. It took a while for “legal” acknowledgment to take place and by then Jan was already a young girl, no longer a baby or a toddler. She met her father for the first time for a blood test that would confirm her birthright, then later once again as a young adult briefly when he gave her permission to use his family name for her own writing. “Use my name, write a book,” he told her yet he also stated, “I do not admit that I am the father of this child, only that she bears my name,” and to her, “you are a lovely little girl but you are not my daughter.” Sadly they never shared much time together on this earth; not even 24 hours in total. Jan had to carry a complicated emblem of agony and ecstasy for being the unwanted child of Jack Kerouac all through her rather short and difficult life.

Here we have a book dedicated to her with memories of friends and others who encountered her, edited by her long-time friend, Gerald Nicosia. The portrait of Jan on the cover unmistakably shows us her strong physical resemblance to Jack. The portrait of Jan between the covers tells of her passions, wit and like her father her ambitions as a writer. As stated earlier, it is difficult enough to be the child of a famous artist and even more difficult to follow in their footsteps but more difficult still to do so without acknowledgement by that parent.

What is the aim of this book of generational convergence, filled with pathos, search, acknowledgement and rejection? What is the use of a book about a child torn from her father by her father but who in the end tried to save that father’s legacy? A book about a wayward daughter turned prostitute, drug addict and ultimately fine writer (those genes)? And why this book now, for Jan, who’s been gone for awhile?

In doing this project, Nicosia gains nothing but the satisfaction of his “heart.”  No monetary gain; no cultural capital from the literary world; no gain in popularity from the world at large. It is a difficult proposition to speculate Jack‘s reaction over this book.  But for someone who cherished “pureness of heart” and “friendship” more than anything else in life, he would hopefully accept (and might even praise) the pureness of purpose of this publication.

Honestly speaking, except for a few, we do not know most of the contributors’ names, and of the  many moving pieces the one by Aram Saroyan, “Children of the Famous: The Final Evolution of Jan Kerouac,” stands out due to Saroyan’s parallel vision. In this, he talks of the bond between him and Jan over their “shared” sense of responsibility to “keep their fathers’ papers in one place” instead of selling off items piecemeal. Jan was a writer herself. She knew how important it was to keep the estate intact in one place. This segment shines along with Nicosia’s “What Jan intended: A  Recollection of Jan Kerouac’s Years of Work on Parrot Fever,” and the transcription of a casual, sweet, humble but in-depth interview with Jan also done by him. With the varied voices of other contributors, and a myriad of photos, we are helped in evoking the personality and short life of this writer, human/woman/daughter, Jan Kerouac.
This book is a fruit of genuine friendship between the editor, contributors and the subject: Jan Kerouac. Nothing more; nothing less. In a (publishing) world flooded with commercialism and ambition, this book is a breath of fresh air.

Sweetly, father and daughter share the same initial: JK.