Thursday, July 27, 2006

Memoirs of Childhood

There is something about a mature author reflecting on their childhood that I find enchanting. Perhaps it's that sense of a golden era, the fog lighting on the past. Here are a few that I've read, reread, loved, and recommended.
1. Where the wings grow by Agnes DeMille
This memoir is by the choreographer, niece to Cecil B. DeMille. He, however, barely appears in this marvellous story of an eccentric and large family, and their existence in early 20th century New York. Her aunt marries a Japanese man around 1910, they all spend summers en masse in cottage country, and the story has the requisite amounts of bittersweet nostalgia and mature reflection. Wonderful.
2. Two under the Indian sun by Jon and Rumer Godden
I adore Rumer Godden and feel that her work has been sadly neglected. Growing up in still colonial India, these sisters have a great facility for making you feel the heat and the sun and the dust and the snakes and the people... more straightforward and more accessible than her fiction set in India, I think.
3. Testament of my childhood by Robert de Rocquebrune
A book I lit upon by chance, and it was a fantastic find. The story of a second son, from a distinguished line of Québecois. Published first in French in the 50's, it is set in the 1890's/early 1900's in the Québec countryside, and yet it feels as if it must be set in the 1700's -- it is really difficult to comprehend what the culture was still like for this family, related to all the who's who of Québec history. An astonishing glimpse into a vanished era.
4. Memories of a lost Egypt by Colette Rossant
A memoir of a small girl of Jewish and French descent growing up in pre-WWII Cairo. A tiny gem of a book; and it includes recipes! Another serendipitous find; just enough family history and social commentary, it makes for a gorgeous read.
5. The Book of Small by Emily Carr
A memoir by one of my favourite painters, West Coast artist Emily Carr. When she became too ill to paint in the woods in her advanced years she turned to writing -- and thank goodness! Her books are like small sketches in themselves and all well worth reading. This book is a set of short pieces about her childhood in Victoria,B.C. at the turn of the last century. Further autobiography follows in Growing Pains. What a woman!

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