A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine

Non-Fiction - Drama
Kindle Edition
Reviewed on 04/25/2015
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Danuta Pfeiffer was born in England. She immigrated with her family to the United States just after WWII. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado. Her first book, Watersafe Your Baby in One Week, became the definitive book on teaching water survival to infants.

Her career as a journalist led her to a series of radio and television shows including co-hosting SunUp San Diego, and is best known for her tenure as co-host of The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. But turning back to her roots, she resumed her broadcast career as a progressive radio talk show host and newspaper columnist.

Today, Danuta and her husband, Robin, can be found tending to their 70-acre vineyard, making fine wine, and sharing it with friends, family, and guests at Pfeiffer Winery in Junction City, Oregon.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Kristine Hall for Readers' Favorite

Danuta Pfeiffer's Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine is the amazing story of Danuta's life - filled with deception, devastation, and determination - that takes readers on a courageous journey. Told in three parts, Danuta's story begins at her beginning, as a God-fearing child, living a spartan life under a father she revered, despite his abusive hands. Her father's stories of obstacles he'd overcome in the war, in the most brutal of circumstances, carried Danuta through her own travails time and again, even as her father continued to reject her. For readers who remember Danuta (then Soderman) and her mysterious departure from being the co-host of The 700 Club with Pat Robertson, details are revealed of not only her departure, but of how CBN and Robertson operated behind-the-scenes. This provided fascinating insight into the sometimes sordid world of televangelism, and it ultimately led to Danuta's "losing God" for a period of time. As Danuta navigates her life - out of work, married to an addict, and questioning the very existence of God - she always draws strength from her father's challenges and perseveres. When she finally allows friendships into her life and allows herself to focus on her own needs, she finds true love with a winemaker, Robin Pfeiffer. Robin takes Danuta to Poland, where Danuta connects with her father's family, and discovers the truth and lies of her father's past. Chiseled is a masterfully written story of a woman spending a lifetime searching to find peace, love, and acceptance within herself.

What a beautifully written personal story Danuta Pfeiffer has shared. At times, readers will have to remind themselves that Chiseled is a memoir and not fiction. It is unbelievable that any one person endured all of the heartache and challenges that Danuta faced, and even more amazing that she survived it and now lives a healthy, happy life. Many of her sentences are stunning, and the imagery truly takes the story to another level. For example, in talking about her father's decline into depression, Danuta wrote, "His change took place the way a shoelace comes undone, gradually unravelling what was once secure." Or, when she speaks of her time with The 700 Club, she summarizes it by saying, "I had become a spiritual drug dealer imbued with the halo of power and celebrity, associated with the brokers of money and politics." Her characterization was excellent so that readers not only witnessed actions, but understood and felt Danuta's emotions towards the characters who had the most impact on her life. Particularly powerful was the story of Danuta's mother, Patricia, who was truly the hero of Danuta's life. In Patricia's strength and commitment to her family, Danuta found a role model in a time when women were restricted by societal limitations. Throughout Danuta's life, her faith and relationship with God went through many iterations, and it was interesting to see her thought process at all stages and what ultimately led her back to a life of faith.

I highly recommend Chiseled, as Danuta Pfeiffer eloquently shows that truth can be more dramatic and fascinating than fiction. Readers should be prepared to be angry - and possibly shed a few tears - but in the end, feel inspired.

Gisela Dixon

Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine by Danuta Pfeiffer is an autobiographical account written in the first person by Danuta Pfeiffer. The book more or less follows a chronological sequence of events, beginning with Danuta’s childhood, her relationship with her parents and siblings, and subsequent move with her family to the frigid wilderness of Alaska. We then learn about her progression toward television and talk shows, including the The 700 Club with Pat Robertson, her mix of liberal feminism with right-wing evangelism, as well as her sudden disappearance from this world. We also learn about the trials and challenges of being an unwed teenage mother and the later equally tough challenges of marital tensions and drugs. Finally, we learn of her quest for peace as she finds it with Robin in being a winemaker and running a vineyard in Oregon. Chiseled contains many photographs as well that accompany the reading.

Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine by Danuta Pfeiffer is a compelling memoir that at times made me feel that Danuta Pfeiffer has led many lives in this one lifetime. Danuta has certainly shown courage in baring her soul and writing about deeply personal issues and challenges in her life and I applaud her for that. The writing style is fast-paced and engaging, and her voice comes across as genuine and authentic. All in all, Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine by Danuta Pfeiffer is a gripping memoir and one that I enjoyed reading tremendously.

Maria Beltran

Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity and Divine Wine is Danuta Pfeiffer’s autobiography. Born to a Polish father and a British mother, one of the little girl’s first memories is that of marrying her father in a mock ceremony. She obviously adored her skier and sculptor father. As the story unfolds, she reveals a life of abuse as he grapples with his past as a Nazi concentration camp victim. Danuta seems to invite misery at schools run by nuns, with her first serious date, poverty, a dysfunctional family, and ending up on a dangerous trip to Alaska, accompanied only by her mother, brother, and her baby who will grow up thinking they are siblings. Her misfortune continues until she finishes college, when life takes a turn for the better and she becomes a televangelist in a popular show. This does not last long enough, however, and she goes on a life’s journey again that will bring her to her father’s native land, where she will discover her's and her father’s true identities.

Danuta Pfeiffer burst onto the United States’ national scene as the attractive and talented blonde who co-hosted the 700 Club with Pat Robertson and Ben Kinchlow. Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity and Divine Wine is her story. Born Danuta Rylko, she reveals a story that is like a roller coaster ride of misery, starting with her family life and two unwanted pregnancies, success when she starts her professional career, happiness when she marries a successful insurance broker, and frustration as her life seems to crumble before her very eyes. Juxtaposed with their daring trip in the harsh winter to Alaska, her early life story is a tale of love and courage. Her creative writing style makes this book a compelling read. The journey to Alaska, told with snippets of a life she leaves behind, adds an element of thrill and expectation that makes the reader read on and on. In the final part of the book, her father’s story and her crumbling marriage make an interesting juxtaposition. And just as we think we know how her story ends, it takes another turn that is completely unexpected. Hers is an extraordinary life told in a remarkable way!

Jane Finch

Chiseled by Danuta Pfeiffer is the biography of the author’s life from her chaotic and desperate childhood and through into adulthood. Danuta was known to many as the co-host of The 700 Club with Pat Robertson on CBN. The story relates how she and her family suffered from the dominance and abuse of her Polish father, and details the downward spiral of her childhood until she finds herself fleeing with her mother to Alaska. The journey is perilous and life-threatening and, even as she tries to make a life for herself in Anchorage, her troubled past continues to haunt her. It is only when she finally moves to California that she is able to take some sort of control, although troubled relationships appear to dog her. The story continues as she finds herself co-hosting on the Christian Broadcasting Network until struggles with her faith move her on and cause her to reflect on her life.

This is an amazing story and I had to keep reminding myself that it was a biography and not a work of fiction, because the trials and struggles that the young Danuta went through defies belief. It is a tribute to the author that her writing was so descriptive and emotive that I was unable to put it down until the end. The strength of Danuta, wherever or whoever that may come from, is apparent throughout as she suffers abuse, humiliation, deprivation, desertion, and eventually the death of the one person who was her worst enemy yet was secretly idolised by her. This story will stay with me for a long time and, apart from the story itself, I give enormous credit to the standard of writing which made this a truly memorable read.

Anne-Marie Reynolds

Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine by Danuta Pfeiffer is a true story. Danuta Pfeiffer used to host The 700 Club with Pat Robertson, but she disappeared with no warning. She left to try to come to terms with her past, a life of chaos living with her father. Danuta has lived a colorful life – raped as a teenager with her father blaming her for the rape, she escaped to Alaska, unmarried and pregnant. She suddenly found herself as a TV evangelist, involved in the presidential election. She married a man who turned out to be an alcoholic. Her life has been turned upside down in more ways than one and more than once but, a true survivor, she moved on to pastures new as a wine-maker in Oregon. The horrors of her past are not over though as a trip to Poland, to the Carpathian Mountains, finds her uncovering secrets that involve her family; secrets that she was never meant to find out. Her journey to discover the real truth starts now.

Chiseled by Danuta Pfeiffer is a powerful story, told by a woman who lived a life of lies and deceit. I found it gripping, one of those books that is not easy to let go of. As well as being the true story of her journey to find herself, to find the real truth about her life and her family, it’s also a story that encourages others to start their own journeys, a story of hope and courage. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I believe that Danuta is a brave and courageous woman. I hope others can take after her shining example and set their own world to rights.

Andrew Moravcsik

Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University

". . . a wonderful book, splendidly written. "

John DeDakis Former CNN S

Former CNN Senior Copy Editor ("The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer")

"This is a powerful and courageous memoir filled with one stunning twist after another."

Hilary Berg

Editor, Oregon Wine Press Magazine

"I could not put the book down. I found myself poring over the pages in my car, in a park, during work hours two days in a row. I was entranced. . ."

The Oregonian, OregonLive

"The story reads like fast-moving fiction!"

Amazon 5-Star Review

"Chiseled makes "Wild" look tame!"

Kelly Kittel

Danuta Pfeiffer’s childhood began like a fairy tale and ended in a nightmare, her father presiding over his family as both lover and monster. Of the former version of him, she writes, “he seemed so rooted to the ground that the very earth seemed to hold him up higher than the rest of us.” He was a master carver and some of her very best language derives from her observations of his work. There are so many wonderful passages to savor and I highlighted 34 notes on my Kindle. “He caressed wood like a lover, fingering the grains, reading the cambial Braille, fondling the sinews and muscles hidden in the fibers. My father was an alchemy of flesh and steel swinging his mallet, chiseling rhythmically into the wood. Long into the night my mother, brother, and I slept to the lullaby of the sculptor’s song: tapping tools and the gentle rasp of wood chips spiraling to the floor. By dawn, curled shavings rustled underfoot like crisp autumn leaves, remnants of his long night of lovemaking.”

Her father carved beautiful statues for a church he’d long abandoned. She writes, “I watched in wonder as shape emerged from the unshaped. Grotesque at first with the effort of becoming, body parts wrenched themselves from the fibers: fingers arthritic with unfinished knuckles; a coarsely hewn arm; a chin stubbing out from the grain; a rib as new as Adam gave to Eve. Before my eyes, Jesus was born next to the refrigerator.” That last is one of my very favorite lines. Ever.

As Danuta matures, she realizes, “We enjoyed much happiness on the bruised and battered back of my mother’s youth, shielding us from the scorching heat of my father’s blazing temper.” Ultimately, they had to escape. Following Danuta’s fall from the grace of her father’s eyes, which I won’t spoil by recounting here, her mother moves them from Michigan to Alaska, proving this very thing, “Though my mother was as soft as an English mist, she was stubborn as a London fog.”

Before she has her first wrinkle, she has lost sons and lovers. Of this she writes, “This ate at me like groundwater nibbling at the foundations of my emotional life, generating little landslides of failures until my losses outweighed my gains.” She glides into the 700 Club hostess seat as if by divine intervention, admitting, “My learning curve as a sidekick-cohost evangelist looked like a hockey stick. Within weeks of joining the television ministry, I stumbled into the role of an unordained surrogate pastor to millions of people who asked for my prayers, requested guidance for their lives, and wanted my interpretation of scripture. Before I learned the words to “Amazing Grace”, Christian organizations booked me for speaking engagements.”

She might have left the show on her own volition, but before she has the opportunity, she’s fired as quickly as she was hired.

After the 700 Club, Danuta’s life slides into a downward spiral fueled by her alcoholic husband, their failed marriage, and the loss of everything they own. At the risk of simplifying things, divorce and biking combine to save her soul.

Ever the prodigal daughter and in spite of their alienation, she carries her father’s voice in her head, “Danuta, some day you will write my story.” Her father has long since died, but she has tapes he recorded, “thirty-six reels in the same sorry shape as our relationship, corroded by time and neglect, some parts flimsy as gauze.” Here her story comes full circle, looping back to page 26 where she writes, “And so we lived, bound to a longing that was not ours and to a past we couldn’t share, imposters attending my father’s counterfeit life.” She travels to Poland where “On the table, empty vodka bottles posted the rounds to oblivion and ashtrays brimmed with half-smoked cigarettes that smoldered like forgotten days.”

In spite of my lack of brevity in this review, there is so much more to this story than what I’ve recounted. More plot points. More characters. More beautiful imagery. Danuta Pfeiffer is a skilled writer and story teller. But art imitates life, so more than that she is an amazing woman who has led a fascinating life. I’ll leave you with this final thought and hope that you will have your own experience of her words, discovering for yourself where this last sentence leads. “Like my father, I shied away from God, losing my faith to sorrow and neglect, allowing it to ebb away one small grace at a time. The lifeline to the God of my catechism frayed until the threads could no longer sustain the weight of my needs. When the power of the sacraments and the saints no longer sheltered me from the ravages of my young life, I looked elsewhere for my salvation.”

Vickie Walker

Stunning! Well-written! Engaging on so many levels. I started reading this beautiful memoir on a Saturday afternoon, hunkered down with a very bad cold, several cups of medicinal hot drinks and a box of kleenex. I couldn't put it down until I finished reading it at 2:30 that morning! It turns out I needed the kleenex more for my tears than I did for my cold. Danuta starts out with a powerful and gripping tale of her mother, Patricia, and three of the four children piling into an ill-equipped car driving from Michigan, up the primitive Alcan Highway all the way to Anchorage, over 4,000 miles in one of the worst snowstorms imaginable! At that moment, along with many others throughout this heartfelt story, I wanted to take Patricia's hands in mine and tell her how much I admired her courage as a woman, a wife, and a mother. Danuta leaves us hanging in the wilds of the Alcan while deftly slipping into poetic prose about her father, mother and their early family life as seen from a child's eyes. All is not what it seems with her father, and over the course of the next several hundred pages you will experience a range of emotions that draw you in with every page. Danuta's search for spiritual understanding leads her down an inadvertent and contradictory path into television evangelism, joblessness, bankruptcy, and climbing out of the depths of a marital relationship full of disappointment. Your heart is begging for Danuta's happiness, and you will delight in meeting the man who stole her heart and wastes no time getting to the point. Robin Pfeiffer is like that puzzle piece, that rare gem, you keep looking for amongst hundreds of pieces on the table, knowing if you find it, you'll get where you need to be. He takes her on a journey to Poland, to her family roots, but the confirmation of her father's love that Danuta seeks turns out to be a story of hurt and betrayal crossing three countries. Writing her memoir had to be an emotionally cathartic effort. I am grateful Danuta had the resolve to continue, because her story is both tragic and uplifting.

Roger W. Hite

I often grimace at the thought of reading a "normal person's" memoir. I especially worry about reading the memoir of someone I know personally--which is the case with Danuta. Danuta Pfeiffer's book caused me to relinquish such a prejudice. She is an extraordinary story-teller. Her writing style isn't just clear expository story-telling. It falls into the category of what I call "literature." It takes courage to disclose many of the events that happened in her life--and to do so with such an engaging and elegant prose style. She is a master of metaphorical language--and it is fluid and not forced. I had a hard time putting the book down between readings. I found her chapter on "the black, the blond, and the Baptist" insightful into her career as a member of Pat Robertson's 700 club. I was sad to read some of her perceptions of that time in her life--and hope that it will not offend the true believers who rely upon the 700 club to reinforce their faith tradition and their belief in the collective power of prayer. It is definitely a five- star book worthy of reading, regardless of one's beliefs.

Tammy Mercer

I couldn't put this book down. Danita Pfeiffer has crammed many lives into one lifetime. I am in awe of her struggles, humor and grit. I am recommending this book to all my friends.

Gerri S.

Good things have been said already by the readers of this amazing memoir and they are true! I have been in a book club for twenty five years and this one will certainly be on one of my favorite read lists. Danuta's writing style, her quest for truth and her vulnerability will keep your attention from beginning to end. This is a story of female heroism where real life meets high drama in every sense of the word. There is much to discuss, but I will not reveal too much because I would not want to give away any details of the many surprises you will encounter on this epic journey of self discovery! You will not be disappointed. This writer deserves to be interviewed by Oprah, Ellen D. and Charlie Rose for her bravery is an example to us all, plus its just damn good writing.