In the August, 1984 — the summer of Michael Ignatieff's "good year" — there was a family gathering at the house in a village in Provence that George and Alison had bought in 1962 as their only permanent residence.
The older Ignatieffs were there. Andrew had flown in from the shanty barrios of Peru where he worked for the Canadian arm of Save the Children. Michael, Susan and baby Theo had come from London — making it the first time three generations of the family were gathered under one roof.
It was a taxing time. Alison had begun her descent into Alzheimer's. George, the all-powerful force in his sons' lives, was showing signs of frailty. There were raw emotions and difficult conversations as the family struggled with its psychological past, with the unfamiliarity of living together, with the pain of coming to terms with Alison's illness.
The sons' difficult relationship with their father came to the surface.
George, who had had no real childhood of his own, had little idea of what to do with fatherhood when it came to him. He could appear warm and affectionate, but found it difficult to convey his hopes and aspirations to his sons beyond declamations of grand dynastic expectations.
Michael said things that wounded his father. He accused him of crushing his mother's creativity and independence by taking over her life and making her subservient to his needs.
A year later, as Andrew would tell Sandra Martin for Saturday Night, he came home to Toronto from Peru for a visit, walked into a bookstore and saw the entire story of his family's summer laid out in an article Michael had written for the British literary magazine Granta.
Or, almost the entire story: Andrew had been written out of the script. He just didn't appear.
"I just remember standing there and my eyes filling up with tears in the middle of the bookstore," he said.
Not long afterward, Andrew quit his job in Peru to return to Toronto to care for his parents, while Michael's career continued to flower in England — as a television host, newspaper commentator, author and screenplay-writer.
In early 1989, he came briefly to Toronto to spell Andrew off as caregiver — "'once or twice a year, it's my turn" — and shortly afterward, Granta published "Deficits," a deeply moving account of a son looking after his mother, with a forensically detailed description of Alison's deteriorating mental state.
Said Andrew: "I came in one evening and my father was really upset, and I said, 'What's the matter?' and he said, 'Michael's written an article about your mother'"
There were family members — for example, Alison's sister, Charity Grant, and her brother, George Grant, and his wife, Sheila — who could never bring themselves to forgive Michael for having publicly exposed his intensely private mother.
That summer, George Ignatieff died. Andrew was with him. Michael was in France.