Sunday, November 12, 2023

Q&A with James G. Robinson


Photo by Earl Wilson



James G. Robinson is the author of the new memoir More Than We Expected: Five Years with a Remarkable Child. It focuses on the life and death of his young son. He has spent almost two decades working at The New York Times, and is an adjunct professor at Columbia Journalism School. He lives in Brooklyn.


Q: First of all, I'm so very sorry about the loss of your son...


Why did you decide to write More Than We Expected?


A: I began writing this book in the fall of 2017, shortly after the death of our son, Nadav, at the age of 5. My motivations at first were merely to give my memories of his life some permanence; I worried that otherwise they would fade away like old photographs or haunt me like persistent ghosts.


I also wanted his surviving brothers to have something to help them understand what we’d been through, and what we’d learned as their parents. 


I’d also been lucky to have had the opportunity to share our story with others. I’d written an essay for The New York Times about a road trip we’d taken in the aftermath of Nadav’s death.


The many heartfelt reactions I heard from strangers was proof that publishing it had been worthwhile. I started to wonder if telling the story of Nadav’s life might have the same effect.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Choosing a title for such a personal story was a difficult process, but I’m pleased with the one we picked. The title alludes to Nadav’s name, which in Hebrew means “generous,” or “giving more than expected.”


But it’s also a play on the idea of what it means to “expect” a new child. Nadav was born with unexpected congenital heart defects — and yet the meaning and insight that came from dealing with those challenges was a privilege I never would have expected.


Q: The writer Ari L. Goldman said of the book, “Robinson does not have all the answers, but he does show how family, faith, science and love can sustain people even at the worst of times.” What do you think of that description?

A: I’m flattered by it. Being the parent of a complicated child touches on all aspects of life.


You work together to build a loving family; you find the faith to live with your decisions, even if the consequences are beyond your control; and you discover an extraordinary capacity—when something goes wrong — to compensate and heal.


Along the way, you realize that there are some things you will never understand, and you have to come to terms with that too.


My wife and I learned to do all of these things, knowing that someday we might have to say goodbye to one of our sons. I wrote the book in part to share these lessons, in the hopes that they might help others.


I think most people wrestle with these issues at some point during their lives, even if they are never faced with such dire circumstances.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book?


A: It is a great relief to have set down so many vivid memories on paper. It’s a huge burden to carry those precious thoughts around in your brain, and working them into sentences and paragraphs helped me find some deeper meaning.


Most of all, I feel gratified that others will have a chance to “meet” our son, even though he is no longer with us.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Mostly, getting the word out about the book. In particular, it’s important to me to connect with parents of complicated children and medical professionals caring for children like Nadav. We learned so much about the world of parenting and medicine that hopefully will help others in similar situations.


I’m also really fascinated to hear from other readers as well. I can be reached via my website ( and welcome opportunities to speak with book clubs, medical gatherings (such as grand rounds) and individual readers.


I’m also looking forward to taking a break. It’s taken over six years from concept to publication -- an exhausting and often frustrating process. While I’m really proud of what I’ve produced, I’m not going to tackle another book-length project any time soon!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I sometimes worry that potential readers will be scared off by the topic. Let me reassure you: although it sounds like a sad story, this book is not a tragedy. Our son’s life was remarkable and inspiring. If I’ve done what I set out to do, readers will find joy shining through the tears.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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