Alva's Boy: An Unsentimental Memoir
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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.
no! Such goingson were never alluded to in the books I devoured from the penny library. As my father's residence at 48 Francis Street was greatly limited by the hours and shifts that he worked in the munitions factory, I saw him infrequently. Shirley was mercifully occupied with a two-year-old child and was noticeably pregnant again. After a bout of virulent namecalling, usually about me, she screamed about her second pregnancy, 'It's not yours. You don't put me up the duff doing the filthy
minutes later by Shirley with a paper bag of Nestle's chocolates which she ostentatiously distributed to her two sons. For Chrissake, they were only a penny each, one more wouldn't have sent her broke. They sauntered up the garden path with barely a nod to me, opened the front door and . . . that was it. With the cheering picture of Jack Bayswaite to fall back on, I hopped down and knocked on the door. Shirley's voice screeched down the hall. 'Let the brat in.' One of the small boys opened it,
same seats, on the aisle, 'so I can stick me foot out, the one with the bunion.' Sampson Collins, emasculated in his fourth marriage, seemed to live vicariously through the films. He was both bigoted and loyal, and if that were not enough, he was a film misogynist. He had nothing but contempt for the wet-eyed innocence of Deanna Durbin and the bob-haired brassiness of the blonde screen sirens. Conversely, he was no misanthrope. The male perpetrators of evil were the victims of scheming women. I
and over. Absolutely amazing: somebody crying over me! Never in all my life! Bugger me! I struggled free and ran for the front door. I could not work the latch. Mrs Gelman caught up with me, embraced me again with one arm while she opened the door. I slid through, took the steps two at a time and burst into the street. I zipped between the cars and a tram on Bondi Road and reached the shop. Yes, as I expected, Angelo tried to give me the deserved belt in the ear as I slid past him. 'Little
there were items that in the past I might have wished for, but mostly just sorting stuff out and putting it on the racks of shelves. Now and then I made a mistake - they were the occasions when I thought of Trudy and felt a delicious flush go through my whole body. I did not know of any other sort of kiss than the one we had shared, a kiss of firm lips against each other's teeth. It came back to me again and again, and each time I was reduced to pressing my own lips to the back of my hand.