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Friday, July 4, 2014

When the World was Young by Elizabeth Gaffney

Wally is an unusual child. Even her moniker is something quite different (she wants to be called Beatrice) but Stella her mother desists. Stella is also an unusual character. Even Gigi the grandmother is unusual for the times.

The family is a bunch of strong minded women - the men are either incapacitated or away in the war. All of them have got used to being on their own and carrying out their lives independently. Wally's world is Ham (their maid's son), the ant colony which comprises their main interest, and Wonder Woman comics. This sets her apart and throughout the book despite school being very much part of their lives you do not hear of school mates or school activities very much. Wally's world seems to centre around home and the people of their home.  As a result Wally remains faintly untouched and far removed from the harsh realities of life.

The story of Stella and Mr. Niederman the boarder - their love affair and subsequent break up with its disastrous consequences for not just the family but Wally in particular, the close relationship between Loretta the black maid who is a surrogate mother to Wally and Ham her son who is almost a brother to Wally.  The fact that he was black at a time when segregation was practiced in America hardly dawns on Wally's consciousness and when it does as adults she is furious. The cocoon she lived in was so absolute that things like this hardly ever impinged on her world though Loretta was very conscious and aware of the divide. There is also the story of first Stella and Rudy her absentee husband and then Rudy's relationship with Wally particularly when she was grown up. 

Family stories like this are unique - each one comprising separate characters with their own stories to tell and combined forming a completely different story are an insight into how people live, love and eventually die.

Liked this one. Sent to me by Netgalley via Random House Publishing Group - Random House for an independent review.