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I think my father's rage at the trenches took me over, when I was very young, and has never left me. Do children feel their parents' emotions? Yes, we do, and it is a legacy I could have done without. What is the use of it? It is as if that old war is in my own memory, my own consciousness.

In this extraordinary book, the 2007 Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing explores the lives of her parents, each irrevocably damaged by the Great War. Her father wanted the simple life of an English farmer, but shrapnel almost killed him in the trenches, and thereafter he had to wear a wooden leg. Her mother, Emily, spent the war nursing the wounded in the Royal Free Hospital after her great love, a doctor, drowned in the Channel.

In the fictional first half of Alfred and Emily, Doris Lessing imagines the happier lives her parents might have made for themselves had there been no war; a story that begins with their meeting at a village cricket match outside Colchester. This is followed by a piercing examination of their relationship as it actually was in the shadow of the Great War, of the family's move to Africa, and of the impact of her parents' marriage on a young woman growing up in a strange land.

"Here I still am," says Doris Lessing, "trying to get out from under that monstrous legacy, trying to get free." Triumphantly, with the publication of Alfred and Emily, she has done just that.

Published: HarperCollins on Oct 13, 2009
ISBN: 9780061862496
List price: $10.99
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A combination novella/memoir, the first half about what her parents' lives would have been like if not for World War I, the second, the reality. Like everyone else who lived through that time, their lives were pretty well ruined by the war.I liked the novella - she didn't give them perfect lives, but real ones that included regret and ambiguity. The memoir section was interesting too, about their life on a farm in Rhodesia. Her mother imagined it would be like Happy Valley in Kenya, and it wasn't; the farm was small and pretty much a failure, and her father developed diabetes (he'd already lost a leg in the war) and died fairly young. Much of this part is about how Lessing's mother tried to live through her children and to control them, a theme I think a lot of us can relate to.I don't think I've ever read anything by Doris Lessing before; I think of her as writing dense political books, but this is a wonderful story. I believe it isn't typical of her writing but maybe I'll try some of her other books.read more
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The novella, about the lives they might have led had they not married, was intriguing. Their unhappy real lives ... not so much.read more
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This was a rather unsatisfying read. The premise was fascinating - Lessing explains in the Foreword that both her parents' lives were blighted by World War One (her father, a vigorous and active man, because he lost his leg, and her mother because her lover died), and so she wanted to reimagine their lives as if the war had never happened. She does this in the first half of the book. Neither parent is given an uncomplicatedly happy life, but her father at least ends up content, and her mother finds fulfillment (although she desperately longs for children and does not have any). Their stories, though, are very rushed - her mother's ten-year marriage is disposed of in 12 pages, and a later flirtation, which lasts five years, in 4 pages. I was also a little disturbed by Lessing's treatment of her mother. She writes, after the first part, that she "enjoyed giving him {her father} someone warm and loving". She also describes her mother's "energy, her humour, her flair, her impetuous way with life", but none of this is visible in the portrait she paints. The second half of the book is supposedly about her parents' real lives - but in fact much more of it is about Lessing herself - random musings mixed with autobiographical snippets. There is enough information about her parents for the reader to understand how trapped and frustrated her mother must have felt by her life in Rhodesia - working on a failing farm, with none of the high-society colonial living that she had expected, with a husband who was dying by slow and painful degrees. There is not enough information to understand why Lessing's relationship with her mother was so difficult - we are told several times that she hated her mother, but it's not easy to understand why the relationship was so venomous.read more
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A combination novella/memoir, the first half about what her parents' lives would have been like if not for World War I, the second, the reality. Like everyone else who lived through that time, their lives were pretty well ruined by the war.I liked the novella - she didn't give them perfect lives, but real ones that included regret and ambiguity. The memoir section was interesting too, about their life on a farm in Rhodesia. Her mother imagined it would be like Happy Valley in Kenya, and it wasn't; the farm was small and pretty much a failure, and her father developed diabetes (he'd already lost a leg in the war) and died fairly young. Much of this part is about how Lessing's mother tried to live through her children and to control them, a theme I think a lot of us can relate to.I don't think I've ever read anything by Doris Lessing before; I think of her as writing dense political books, but this is a wonderful story. I believe it isn't typical of her writing but maybe I'll try some of her other books.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
The novella, about the lives they might have led had they not married, was intriguing. Their unhappy real lives ... not so much.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This was a rather unsatisfying read. The premise was fascinating - Lessing explains in the Foreword that both her parents' lives were blighted by World War One (her father, a vigorous and active man, because he lost his leg, and her mother because her lover died), and so she wanted to reimagine their lives as if the war had never happened. She does this in the first half of the book. Neither parent is given an uncomplicatedly happy life, but her father at least ends up content, and her mother finds fulfillment (although she desperately longs for children and does not have any). Their stories, though, are very rushed - her mother's ten-year marriage is disposed of in 12 pages, and a later flirtation, which lasts five years, in 4 pages. I was also a little disturbed by Lessing's treatment of her mother. She writes, after the first part, that she "enjoyed giving him {her father} someone warm and loving". She also describes her mother's "energy, her humour, her flair, her impetuous way with life", but none of this is visible in the portrait she paints. The second half of the book is supposedly about her parents' real lives - but in fact much more of it is about Lessing herself - random musings mixed with autobiographical snippets. There is enough information about her parents for the reader to understand how trapped and frustrated her mother must have felt by her life in Rhodesia - working on a failing farm, with none of the high-society colonial living that she had expected, with a husband who was dying by slow and painful degrees. There is not enough information to understand why Lessing's relationship with her mother was so difficult - we are told several times that she hated her mother, but it's not easy to understand why the relationship was so venomous.
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I enjoyed this book, an insight into her own upbringing and feelings towards here mother were especially interesting. The book is in two parts, the first is fiction about the life she would have wished for her parents and the second part, how it actually was from Doris Lessings own perspective.
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"That war, the Great War, the war that would end all war, squatted over my childhood. The trenches ere as present to me as anything I actually saw around me. And here I still am, trying to get our from under the monstrous legacy, trying to get free."If I could meet Alfred Tayler and Emily McVeagh now, as I have written them, as they might have been had the Great War not happened, I hope they would approve the lives I have given them. -- Doris Lessing fromAlfred and EmilyThis was a very strange book. Lessing did seem to be trying to exorcise the demons of her childhood. The first half of the book is an alternate reality in which Lessing's parents live the lives they were supposed to--without war and without marrying each other! Alfred marries a pretty plump woman, has children and works on an English farm. Emily becomes a nurse, marries a rich surgeon, and uses his fortune to found schools for the poor when he dies suddenly. All this takes place in an England that never went to war (either WWI or WWII.) Because a fairy tale life is boring, Lessing sprinkles in some conflicts with parents, an alcoholic friend, disappointments, etc., but basically they live long and mostly fulfilled lives.In the second half we get all the tragedy of their real lives, the psychological trauma of loss (Alfred's leg in the war, Emily's great love); the family's trials on an unproductive farm in Rhodesia; Alfred's slow decline and death due to diabetes; Emily's grasping need to live through her children (in the fictional version, Emily has no children!) If anyone wants insight into Lessing's writing, this is a good place to start. She says herself that she spent most of her writing life, working out her problems with her mother. But don't mistake this for historical fiction - it's mostly memoir.
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II was an interesting story about her parents' life in Rhodesia. I felt the syntax was stilted and choppy throughout the book. Because of " ,choppiness" it was hard to focus on what she was trying to convey. Doris Lessing is a Pulitzer Prize winner. I know it's me, not her. I think I have been saturated with reading books maybe not up to par with her writing skills.. She wrote some excerpts which were food for thought (forgive the pun) on American restaurants throwing away good food, while there are starving people everywhere. She thought is was unforgivable. It is. Also food for thought were her excerpts about war being nothing more than profiteering. I didn't enjoy the first part about her parents imaginary life. She should have stuck with reality.
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