Author: Lucy Lang
Genre: Autobiographical/ memoir
Review: As a person who does not read a lot of autobiographical or memoir type novel I was slightly tentative about reading this book but as soon as I got into it I realized this woman had the most turbulent life anyone could have as they moved around a lot due to her father’s work and the disturbing events that were taking place in Kenya around the time of her birth. In the first chapter a lot of deaths are mentioned particularly that of her grandparents on both side which prompted a journey to England to settle her grandfather’s estate (on her mothers’ side.)
Lang describes in some great detail the family’s journey from Africa to England and about the memories she had from this which are heart-warming despite the slightly turbulent relationship between her parents and her own vague memories due to her young age at the time. As the family arrives in Glasgow their “home” town they aren’t granted the settled life her mother hoped for. They have to rent out the family home as Lang’s father couldn’t find work and was not eligible for unemployment benefit, so they move around a series of rented home and this strained situation isn’t helped as her mother as mental health issues namely depression, but she also has characteristics of bi-polar disorder. This was extremely close to home for me and did struggle a little to read about this but it was also reassuring that my family aren’t the only one like Lang’s.
As a woman as few years older than my mother Lang story resonated greatly with me after hearing some similar trails my mother faced within her own family. Lang like many of her generation remembers where she was when J.F.K was assassination in Dallas 1963. It was very moving to hear about Lang’s troubled childhood with one parents constantly on the move and another suffering with severe mental health issues and how she and her sister coped during those difficult times. The story at times is very difficult to follow as the family to various countries all over Europe and Africa, and the varying dizzying events that occurs during these times. One key episode we see is when Lang contracts whooping cough and he farther is reluctant to call a doctor as the nearest one is miles away but he soon does and she eventually recovers but it did highly how moving around a lot was a harmful and it was exciting for the family especially to their mother. The key issue I am seeing is the vital differences between her parents, Lang’s father always wants to travel and never stays in one place to long whereas her mother wants desperately to be settled in one place for a long time, this key divide possibly triggered a lot of her mother’s depressive episodes.
I would describe Lang’s life as very bohemian as what their parents were doing by pulling their children out of school on whims and moving around a lot was necessarily socially acceptable at the time when all this was taking place. I feel very sorry for Lucy and her sister as they should have had a settled upbringing where they were cared for and attended schools regularly but I understand the fact that Lang would change the upbringing she had as without she wouldn’t be the person she is today and she wouldn’t have all these interesting things to write about. Lang does talk in depth about this chaotic life helped shape her future personality. The animals they butchered to survive the rainy seasons caused her to become a vegetarian, the abuse she suffered at a boarding school led to her developing strong bonds of friendship with many of the other pupils who were also abused and the most significant thing I found was that the time she spent away from both her parents made her appreciate them more which many people today fail to do.
As we creep towards the half way point in the novel, I feel really sorry for the children as in my eyes they are constantly being neglected by their parents and often have their lives uprooted, their education disrupted and taken to places that were very dangerous for both children and women at this time, although the author does insist that she and her sister were loved and well taken care of. I was also appealed at the horrific beatings the children had to endure at various school in Africa. Lang also learns to take control over her own education despite moving from country to country by applying herself more in school and catching up where and when she can. I applaud her determination and resilience with the life she had been given. Lang unexpectedly also admits that lots of the problems with their education was their father’s fault as it was he who wanted to travel and constantly dragging them from place to place. Lang also talks about the various political upheavals that she encountered and how the disrupted her life for example, her passport to return to Glasgow took months to arrive. Lang also leaves school and her mother begins to home school her which she loves despite missing her friends slightly she is glad to be away from the brutal conditions within some of the African schools.
Langs’ life begins to settle down a little when the girls opt to stay in Scotland and go to school there rather than go as a family back to Africa, in a way they did this for their mother sake. As time goes on and the girls become teenagers Lang is dumbfounded by the drastic contrasts between African and Scotland and how technology has advanced. She also gets her first job with her neighbors which is enjoys immensely which was very nice to see after her very unsettled life, but all is not well as her mother’s condition deteriorates and she is frequently hospitalized and is put on medication. But one thing the reader has to remember is that during the 60’s and 70’s there was still a large stigma around mental health and if you know someone with depression or other mental health issues you didn’t talk about it and many people like Lang would have felt ashamed to be seen with someone like this especially when they are in a low period. Lang as she gets older also begins to realize her father being away caused long bouts of her mother’s illness especially when he didn’t send any money home just expecting his wife to take care of this. Despite having a very close relationship with her father when she was young Lang beings to distance herself from him choosing instead to focus on caring for her mother when she was depressed and at a cost to herself as she would have to take time of school to do so.
As we move into the final section of the novel, Lang begins to develop into a strong, confident woman mentally and emotional prepared to take care of her mental ill mother, despite all the upheaval and distress in her life Lang somehow manages to move past it all and create a life of her own and while this life isn’t perfect she is content with all that she has been blessed with. My favorite thing about this book was the beautiful images at the end that just make this novel seem more real and brings some of Lang’s memories to life. I would recommend this book to anyone that like autobiographical books and books about travel. I would also recommend it to people who suffer with or know someone that suffers with mental health issues as it provides some very realistic insights in how families care and cope with diseases like depression and bi-polar.
This book was sent to me for review consideration by the author
Buy it here: