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When All the World Was Young: A Memoir (2005)

by Barbara Holland

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1046261,403 (3.9)4
In a memoir of growing up in Washington, D.C., during the 1940s and 1950s, the author of "Gentleman's Blood" and "Hail to the Chiefs" gives a sharp-eyed look at history, as well as insights into her own life.

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The best memoirs leave one wanting more. This is one of those. A lovely, incisively observed life. Holland is amusing without being silly, nostalgic without being treacly.

A telling excerpt:
"Several years ago a well-heeled friend said to me, 'I was brought up to believe you must never, ever dip into capital. Weren't you?' 'No,' I said, 'I was brought up to believe you must never, ever cross a picket line.' and we gazed at each other across the chasm."

I adored this book. Holland struck all the right notes.
( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
Kathy’s impression from having glanced at it was that the book was depressing, but although there are a lot of depressing things that happen to Holland, she succeeds in the early years in conveying the view that a child has of an abusive father and an aloof mother: that these are not extraordinary but just the way things are. Her mother was extraordinary—creative with carpentry tools or later with writing, free from almost all the prejudices of her generation and class. The young Barbara managed to find a creative friend, and she says her grandmother probably saved her from suicide.
Holland has insights such as finding herself in her interest aunt Peggy’s dress, imagining for a moment what it would be like being her aunt, and realizing the impossibility: “Growing up is the process of learning how many things you can’t do and how many people you can’t be. When you’ve winnowed them out, what’s left is you.”
I like also many of her descriptive passages capturing a time before everyone had air conditioning and television, before the Salk vaccine as well:
In the kitchen the refrigerator door opened with a wheeze of gaskets. Every refrigerator held a bottle of cold water, properly in an empty green prune-juice jar, courtesy of Sunsweet, flat-sided for tucking up against the side wall out of the way. Nice people poured it into a glass; others, standing half naked in the cool light from the open door, drank from the bottle. Topped it off from the faucet before putting it back. Sleeping babies whimpered with a rash called prickly heat. Sheets thrashed.
Waves of polio alarms closed down the neighborhood swimming pools, and conscientious mothers wouldn’t let their young go even to the movies, oases of air-conditioning, because polio worked crowds, or so some believed. Nobody really knew. Polio was the faceless stalker.
She’s also good on joyful experiences such as triumphing over a nasty teacher or learning that she could support herself with work she liked. One of her themes is that as a child she found her talents, usually having to do with words, got her more trouble than the praise she innocently expected. Later the talents do get her praise and a livelihood. ( )
1 vote michaelm42071 | Sep 4, 2009 |
A good read. It makes me wonder what my own description of childhood would be like, particularly describing my parents and their actions and isms. I agree the ending was way too abrupt though. ( )
  Pool_Boy | Dec 2, 2007 |
Could have been five stars if the ending wasn't so abrupt. Fun read. ( )
  VenusofUrbino | Nov 15, 2007 |
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To my noble & tireless agent, Al Hart
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To begin with, there was the chair.
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In a memoir of growing up in Washington, D.C., during the 1940s and 1950s, the author of "Gentleman's Blood" and "Hail to the Chiefs" gives a sharp-eyed look at history, as well as insights into her own life.

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