Wednesday, 24 December 2014

We Are All Welcome Here - Elizabeth Berg

We Are All Welcome Here  Yet another Elizabeth Berg novel that I just happened upon.   She's an American writer, and I think sometimes, that in the UK, American writers are passed over by readers because the subject matter, whilst the same, is just that bit different.  Well, they would be, wouldn't they?  It's not home, is it?   Actually, yes, it is - just a slightly different one.  She writes a good story, she writes from the heart, but she's not a hearts and flowers type of writer at all.  She's another like Lori Lansens who writes about life as it actually is.  Or in this case, was.

Set in the very early days of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, when a white man supporting a negro cause was just as likely to be killed as the negro he was supporting, Diana is the thirteen year old child of a paralysed mother, Paige, who contracted Polio before the birth of her daughter.  To everyone's surprise, she delivered the child in her iron lung and they both survived.  Her marriage did not.  Her decision to bring the child up on her own is frowned upon, but she has Peacie, the day housekeeper to help, and an evening helper too.  She's meant to have a night nurse too, but there is no money to pay for that, so over the years, Diana has done the night care.  This is, first of all, the story of relationships - how different people act with each other and with other folk.  And in Peacie, I found a real live heroine.  Black, hard faced, and perhaps buried deep a real heart, for it is she that ensures that Diana eats properly, that she has clean clothes, that she knows how to shop with very little money, that she doesn't mix with the wrong sort.  And of course Diana resents it, and hates Peacie - she's an adolescent! 

Polio is one of those forgotten tragedies, but the description of how difficult life was for a sufferer brought me up sharp;   I couldn't imagine how awful it must have been.  And Civil Rights?  God, even towns were segregated into black and white areas, even though some whites lived poorer than some blacks they still thought themselves superior.    Well written, and at less than 200 pages still manages to pack a punch.  The story is not based on truth but was suggested to the author by someone who's own mother had been trapped in an iron lung but accomplished much.   I loved the characters here.  I knew Paige would never not have polio but I wished her a better life.  With Diana, I remembered adolescence.  And I loved Peacie - a huge character for a small book. Hugely recommended.