Alva's Boy: An Unsentimental Memoir

Alva's Boy: An Unsentimental Memoir

Language: English

Pages: 264

ISBN: 1442977590

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


I weighed up these women in my life and decided that none of them would fill the role of a mother. But then, what did I know about mothers anyway? ... The short answer was nothing bugger-all.'' Sydney in 1928 and Alva, a young Jewish wife, dies in childbirth. No family member is allowed to care for the baby, so ''Alva's boy'' is sent from one children's home to another. His father weds for the fourth time but young Alan finds his dreams of a real home shattered amid the ruins of this disastrous marriage. He navigates his way through childhood as a street-smart survivor, and not even the archetypal wicked stepmother, her terrible Ma or his own foolish father can rob him of hope. With a keen ear for authentic dialogue and a wry humour, Alan Collins tells a poignant story with vitality and a remarkable lack of sentimentality. The adult author reconstructs his childhood through the memory of vivid sensory experiences and presents a cast of unforgettable characters. He has an unerring sense of time and place, and through his eyes we glimpse Australia, and especially Jewish-Australian society, as it was in the 1930s and early 1940s. He shows us a community caught up in the Great Depression, anticipating and then experiencing war, coping with poverty, ill-prepared for the ''reffos'' who were coming from Europe. It is a memoir that is so Jewish and at the same time so Australian.

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names on the credits he gripped my elbow. He did not refer to them as Jews. No, that was how the antiSemites talked. His recital went something like this: Screenplay by Samuel Scheinwald (Father: He's a Yiddisher.) From a book by Ernest Hemingway (Father: Used to be Hornstein.) Music by Irving Baumgarten (Father: Only the Yiddishers can write good songs. Look at George M. Cohan.) Directed by Charles Brown (Father: Changed from something else for sure.) Starring Basil Rathbone

Bondi school. I knew because I had seen them years back, wearing little leather pants and shirts that were embroidered! 'Danke, young man. Oh, I am sorry, I should call you Alan,' which however came out as 'Eln'. Never mind, I was happy with it; just hearing my name was enough. Was it a small flat? I could not tell. How many flats had I seen in all my thirteen years? Only Aunt Enid's actually, oh, and Uncle Harry'es tiny one. Perhaps this was a large flat. While Mrs Gelman unpacked her fruit

down my sides, had to agree with her. Oddly enough, I felt no resentment - rather, a warm feeling, a sense of being safe with her, the more so when she rose from her chair and stood behind me with both her hands on my shoulders. She reached over and opened her handbag which lay on the table and took out a small folder, putting it in front of me. She remained standing behind my chair, her fingers curled into the hollows of my shoulderblades. When she spoke again there was a tremor in her voice.

sixthirty in the morning with his Gladstone bag containing his two bread rolls, and having cut me two doorstep sandwiches of jam and peanut butter, he sometimes got on the tram to catch a glimpse of me clinging to the running board selling papers. I wondered about this early departure for work because he did not start until 3 o'clock and finished at midnight. One day, on a school holiday, I followed him to town in the tram, not difficult because he sat outside and smoked while I as a child was

enveloped in it so nobody could actually see my narrow chest and matchstick arms and legs. 'Yeah?' 'Please show me that towel,' I touched it as it hung on a shop model. 'Please get it down for me.' 'Can't have that one, sonny Jim. It's for display only.' He was a very big man with tight grey curls, and built, as one of my old gang would say, 'like a brick shithouse'. He turned to leave me. I tapped him on the arm. He spun around. The moneybag thumped against my ribs. 'Please can you get me one

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