Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Then and Now: One Man's Comparison

Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church, Kensington, London.
Bombed by 2 oil bombs on September 14, 1940.
I was doing a bit of research on our book, and found this review on one of my favorite websites, GoodReads.com. The author of the review is a man named Andrew Smith. I greatly appreciate his perspective. He compares his experience of reading the book as a child, while growing up in post-WWII Liverpool, with his re-reading of the book as an adult 50 years later.

He writes:
"I read An Episode of Sparrows when I was a child growing up in post-World War II Liverpool. It was first published in 1955 when I was eight-years-old. It's said you can't go back, but I'm convinced this book is as good as I remember it. I've ordered a copy and look forward to immersing myself in it as I did as the ten-year-old searching for a bright future among the bomb sites and food shortages of post-war U.K.

AFTER RE-READING
I couldn’t have been more than ten-years-old when I first read 'An Episode of Sparrows', but I remembered with great fondness the feisty waif, Lovejoy, and her gargantuan efforts to make a secret flower garden in a hidden corner of a London bombsite in a downtrodden section of the British capital. I remembered her temporary guardian, Vincent, with his impractical ideas of running a “first-class restaurant” and his epic struggles to prevent it from sinking into bankruptcy in an area where people could barely afford a few pence to buy fish and chips wrapped in newspaper let alone pay for a three-course French dinner. I remembered the two wealthy unmarried sisters who lived in the posh square that lay at the border of Lovejoy’s working-class neighbourhood. I remembered the clash of class and culture when the sisters’ and Lovejoy’s worlds collided. 
But I hadn’t remembered the subtle sophistication of ideas flying off the pages concerning morality, religion, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility. Like all good novels — written for readers of any age — those issues are understated. I certainly can’t remember being conscious of them as a ten-year-old. However, like any effective work of fiction, those underlying issues and ideas must certainly have made an impression. I obviously can’t know for sure, but I couldn’t help feeling as I re-read ‘An Episode of Sparrows’ some fifty years later that the book must have had a profound effect on me. I recognized in Rumer Godden’s story my own abomination of class discrimination in any form and a derring-do style of determination that sometimes misfires and/or backfires. I think I must have related very closely to the children in the book because I was reminded of the misery of growing up poor, However I was also reminded of moments of intense joy in small events that made life seem not only worthwhile but wonderful.
Apart from lucid realism coupled with a sophistication of ideas in ‘An Episode of Sparrows,’ the book has a suspenseful plot that sweeps the reader along. Every one of the disparate characters is finely drawn, and the descriptions of post-war London — from rubble strewn bombed-out houses to the sparkling exclusive shops of Bond Street — bring the 1950s city vividly to life. The book is also a lesson in excellent writing, including vocabulary that might challenge some adults. Although written for children, ‘An Episode of Sparrows’ makes for an engaging and thought-provoking experience for everyone."

children playing on the site of a bombed out church in London, 1948

2 comments:

  1. That photo of the children playing in the bombed out street makes me tear up. I experience some sort of American guilt about WWI and WWII. As Americans, we don't understand WWI or WWII in the same way as the English, or the rest of Europe. Yes, we lost many lives and our troops came home scarred--physically, emotionally, spiritually, but they came home to a landscape that still looked the same and that experienced post-war prosperity. It was so different in Europe, especially in England, where the landscape reflected the same scarring the soldiers carried externally and internally with them. I think that a better understanding of that, in addition to all the other qualities of this great work of literature, is another value of this book.

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  2. Very true, Terri. I remember touring London. The tour guide would say, "here is the location of (fill in famous place) that was bombed in the war." Over and over. I remember thinking that London really looked a lot like Houston. So many plain business buildings. But, after I realized why, I was so very sad.

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