Persephone Readathon #3 Challenges

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Since I finished my reads for this Persephone Readathon a bit early, I thought that I’d take on some of the challenges.

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As I mentioned in my previous post I read Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (loved it!) this time around.

The book follows Hilary Wainright, a British intellectual who married Lisa, a French girl, just prior to WWII. They were separated just before the German occupation, with Lisa stuck in Paris with their newborn son, and Hilary in England. Lisa was a resistance worker and was killed during the war. The baby disappeared. After the war, Hilary returns to France to try to find his son. He has a friend who is devoted to helping him, but he’s not sure how he’ll know if the child (who he only saw as a newborn) is his. Furthermore, after his wife’s death, Hilary successfully turned off his emotions. He is reluctant to make himself emotionally vulnerable again.

Beautiful Endpapers: Show us a photo of your current book’s endpapers/your favorite Persephone endpapers/or design your own endpapers.

This is the endpaper used in Little Boy Lost:

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The endpaper is a fabric designed in 1946 by the Hélène Gallèt studio in Paris – the green is reminiscent of bourgeois France, and the pattern has both fleur-de-lis and childlike, primitive stars.

In Six Words: Describe your current Persephone read in 6 words.

-heartbreaking

-haunting

-beautiful

-compelling

-poignant

-metaphorical

Quote This: Share a quote from your current read.

I think this quote sums up the main character’s dilemma through out the book.

“You see, Pleaded Hilary, I am incapable of giving. I dare not give and so I’m running away. I’ve finished with ordeals. I am fleeing to the anesthesia of immediate comfort and absolute non-obligation.”

The book ends with a beautiful passage that I won’t quote here because of spoilers.

Read This: Give a book recommendation/readalike based on a Persephone title.

My recommendation in this case would be another Persephone book: Saplings by Noel Streatfeild. Like Little Boy Lost, Saplings looks at what happens to children during wartime, and like Little Boy Lost, it’s not pretty. But the children in both these books are in some sense lucky. They’re not exposed to direct violence and they’re not left without adult care. To some extent, their physical needs for food and shelter are met. Yet they all suffer terrible loss and lack the consistency and affection that children need.

Page to Screen: Share the Persephone title you would most like to see adapted for the screen. Include your dream cast if you’d like.

mv5bntlknwexyzyty2riyi00zmrkltgznzgtyze5odaxmgrjmwq3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndqzmdg4nzk40._v1_Well Little Boy Lost was made into a film in 1953. It was a musical starring Bing Crosby which seems like a very odd choice given the source material. I haven’t seen it but I’d kind of like to out of morbid curiosity. Crosby seems totally miscast as the Hilary I imagine. In terms of contemporary actors I think that Matthew Goode or Harry Lloyd might work.

 

 

 

Persephone Readathon #3

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51bl0b8nefl._sx352_bo1204203200_Jessie @ dwellinpossibility is hosting the third annual Persephone readathon this week. I’m excited to dive back into some Persephone titles. This week I’ll be reading Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski. It’s been on my TBR for a while, and I’ve heard great things about it. Set in the days following WWII it’s about a father looking for his son.

For the last readathon, I read Saplings by Noel Streatfield which is another story of parents and children amidst the backdrop of WWII. I found it heartbreaking and haunting, and I hope that this lives up to that standard.

71pwec3g0ol._ac_ul436_Additionally I’ll be participating in the Persephone Readalong. We’ll be reading Virginia Woolf’s Flush, which is a “biography” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel. I love the idea of a biography of a famous person’s dog, but the book isn’t just about that. ‘Although ostensibly about the taming of a pedigree dog, Flush addresses the way society tames and classifies women,’ writes Sally Beauman.

I’m looking forward to a great week of reading and challenges! Is anyone else participating in this year’s Persephone readathon?

Persephone Readathon #2: Saplings

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I finished Saplings by Noel Streatfeild, my book for Jessie@DwellinPossibility‘s Persephone Readathon #2. I definitely recommend it.

My Thoughts

The Wilshires are a happy, wealthy British family. When WWII begins, Alex, the father, anticipates the Blitz and sends his four children out of London. The two youngest go to their grandparents in the country, while the older two attend boarding school. Alex’s wife, Lena, is emotionally needy and refuses to leave her husband, who must remain in London for work. So begins six years of upheaval for the Wiltshire children. Practical necessities and emergencies mean that they are moved from one school to another, from their grandparents to the home of various aunts and uncles, to their parents home and back again. Things get worse after Alex is killed by a bomb. Lena isn’t able to provide a steady foundation on which the family can regroup, so they falter in their own ways.

Despite all this volatility, the Wiltshires are lucky. We have all heard horror stories of children ending far, far worse during WWII. The Wiltshires have the financial resources to ensure that there is always a roof over their heads. They have an extended family of deeply flawed people, but also people who genuinely care about their welfare. The unasked, and unanswered question is, without these resources, what would become of these children? And are all of these resources enough to protect them?

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As a teacher, I’ve seen that one of the most important things that children need is stability and consistency. Without these things, they feel uncertain and insecure. They might become anxious or begin to act out in different ways. We see all of that with the Wiltshire children. The oldest, Laurel, doesn’t particularly shine in any one area, which makes her self-conscious. She wants to be someone’s priority as she enters adolescence. Tony idolizes his father, and in his absence, he becomes withdrawn and sullen. Kim takes after his mother in his desire to be admired and is often unable to see beyond his own needs and desires. Tuesday, the youngest, is continuously anxious and unsure of herself and her surroundings.

Interestingly this book was written in 1945 when the field of child psychology was still in its infancy. Psychologists were just starting to identify the fact that childhood is a  series of distinct developmental stages that each have its own needs. When these needs aren’t met children’s well being suffers just as much as it would if their physical needs were ignored. At the same time, children have a natural resilience. This is true of the Wiltshire children, who draw strength and support from various sources throughout the book.

I’m familiar with this information from several years of working with children as well as several graduate level courses in developmental psychology. The content of those courses came from sixty years of post-WWII research and study on the part of child psychologists. Noel Streatfield had access to none of it when she wrote this book, because it hadn’t been done yet. She had an intuitive understanding of the needs and feelings of children and the consequences when these needs aren’t met and acknowledged. That allowed her to write this perceptive book with psychological accuracy. The last half-century of research has proven her correct.

A Few Persephone Challenges:

Quote This: Share a quote from your current read.

Two stand out:

Alex did not answer. Every fibre of the Colonel must be protesting. Odd how, in a world where such unnameable horrors were commonplace, a simple thing like taking his home from an old man could still wring your heart.

and:

Heaps of children grew up without much attention and turned out alright in the end … Heaps did, but were they the Laurels, Tonys and Tuesdays?  She herself had grown up all right with very little attention, and little of it wise. All right but bruised. The Wiltshires were having a harder upbringing than she had. If only bruising was all they got out of it. What if they grew mis-shapen?

In Six Words: Describe your current Persephone read in 6 words.

psychological, nuanced, painful, humorous, bittersweet, perceptive

Contemporary Pairing: Pair a contemporary book with a Persephone title

Potentially interesting pairings that are also about growing up amidst conflict and loss.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini- About childhood in war-torn Afganistan

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- About growing up in a violent dystopian future

Persephone Readathon #2: Saplings by Novel Streatfield

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My read for Jessie@ DwellinPossibility‘s Persephone Readathon #2 is Saplings by Noel Streatfield. I loved Noel Streatfield’s “Shoes” books as a kid (Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Theatre Shoes,  etc).  Interestingly, Saplings starts off as an inversion of the scenario that begins Streatfield’s most famous children’s book, Ballet Shoes. That book features several orphans come together to form a family unit that benefits economically from their talents. Saplings, on the other hand, begins with a happy upper-middle-class family on vacation at the seaside circa 1939. But while the setting and the characters appear idyllic, cracks soon begin to show. Mom is beautiful but narcissistic. She sees her children as “charming decorations.” She enjoys them when they reflect well on her, but she leaves that actual work of childrearing to her husband, the nanny and the governess. Still, as long as they receive love and affection, as well as rules and structure from adults in their lives, the children are happy. Dad is a loving family man who is proud of his four children. But it soon becomes clear that he’s planned this holiday because he has a strong sense of foreboding. He knows England will soon be at war with Germany and if/when that happens these family beach vacations will be a thing of the past. He plans for the safest and least disruptive ways to handle that eventuality. Though they begin as a happy family unit, we see the seeds of that disintegration early on.

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Cover painting: WVS Clothing Exchange by Evelyn Gibbs, 1943
© Imperial War Museum

Throughout the readathon there are optional challenges which you can read about here:

Photogenic Persephones: Share a photo of your Persephone collection and/or your readathon TBR stack.

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Beautiful Endpapers: Show us a photo of your current book’s endpapers/your favorite Persephone endpapers/or design your own endpapers.

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A 1938 fabric by Marion Dorn was chosen for Saplings. It is called ‘Aircraft’ and shows pairs of stylised pigeons in flight on a background of natural linen. It contains the imagery of aircraft being readied for war yet of birds freely in flight.