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John McGahern
George Eliot
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Afflictions and Departures

Afflictions and Departures - Madeline Sonik When we look back on our lives, or that of others, it is always in the context of other things, both personal ("I remember such and such happened just after graduation night") and societal ("We didn't have to do any school lessons on the day that Canada won that hockey game against Russia in 1972; for the first time we got to watch tv in school, and celebrate that goal together"). We share those communal events; they are markers in our lives. Our own unique life events are juxtaposed with those common markers. It's not just events we mark either. It is also a gradual tide of change that we often don't see clearly at the time, but can easily recognise it in our hindsight. And then when we look back, we can't help but notice for instance, how much a father smoked, completely oblivious to the future consequences. Back then, parents usually hit their kids, often beat their kids even, but that was the norm and it was acceptable (so long as no marks were left), but 40 years later this is no longer tolerated by society. Kids still get beaten of course, but the general pervasive attitude of 'spare the rod, spoil the child' fortunately finally seems to be dissipating.

This is not really the same kind of book as those in the recent flood of 'misery memoirs'. It is really a memoir of so many of us growing up in the 60s and 70s, almost an 'Everyman's Memoir'. Those of us of that certain age will find much to identify with. It is a collection of discrete essays on episodes or experiences of her childhood, but it is in the context of other larger events and how they meshed with the lives of her family. I am about the same age, and her childhood was split between Illinois and Ontario, so her communal touchstones were mine too, and for that reason it felt we were sharing some common stories.

It is well-written, insightful, and mature, as would be expected since Sonik is an award-winning writer, who now teaches at University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.