Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Memoir week continues here, with Melanie McGrath's

An East End Family Memoir

Silvertown is the story of Melanie McGrath's grandparents, Jenny and Len Page. It's one of those extraordinary stories of everyday life in the East End of London around the turn of the century. These are people who struggled every day of their lives, and knew no different. People who lived in London but never visited the Tower of London or St Paul's Cathedral.

McGrath tells this story with candor, she is sympathetic but honest about her subjects. The lives her grandparents led are the same lives everyone else around them led. They both grew up in poor households, Jenny wishing to marry to get from under her father's roof and maintain her own household instead of her parent's. McGrath says this about Jenny's husband:

He was not one of her passions.

Nor was she one of his. Jenny and Len have two children who are removed to the countryside during the war. They stay there for six years during which time they have little contact with their parents. When they return, their father Len is glad to see them as he intends for them to work in his coffee shop. His bookish daughter has other ideas, of school and education. Her diagnosis of tuberculosis keeps her from school and the coffee shop much to her father's dismay - he sees nothing wrong with her that a little hard work wouldn't fix. This daughter happens to be the mother of the author and while we yearn to hear more about her, the author tells us that:

Hers is a different story, to be told another time.

I hope she writes that book.

Jenny suffers her husbands unfaithfulness, eventually winding up on her own, still working hard as she continues to do throughout her life. You know the rest.

This was a fascinating and absorbing read and contained one of the most horrific life experiences I've read in any book. The day Jenny turned 17, her mother took her out by herself, a rare occurrence. They did not go out for ice cream or new shoes. Jenny was delivered to a man who was paid to remove all of Jenny's teeth. There was no anesthesia or pain medication besides alcohol. It is an unbelievable story, and what was even more unbelievable was the reason why.

For those interested in what life was like, Silvertown is recommended.


bermudaonion said...

Oh my gosh, that sounds horrible! Why in the world did they remove all of her teeth? I guess I need to read the book to find out.

Cornflower said...

What a good idea to have a memoir week! I'll look forward to the rest of it.

JoAnn said...

I'm enjoying your memoir week, too...although this one sounds just a little too horrific for my taste.

Bybee said...

Ditto. You're doing a wonderful job!

Tara said...

bermudaonion, yes, you'll just have to read it, I guess...;-)

Karen, thank you!

JoAnn, thanks...the thing about memoirs is that overall they seem to be depressing. Not much point to write about an ordinary happy life, is there? At least it seems that way.

Bybee, thanks! Nice to see you back!

Iliana said...

Oh my goodness that last paragraph... How horrific. I feel like I need to read this too just to understand that!

Cath said...

That sounds like a powerful book. I know I've seen it around in charity shops so next time I see it I'll grab it.

Tara said...

Iliana, I read something about the teeth pulling, and that is what moved me to read this. I couldn't believe it.

Cath, it was very moving, and I'm sure even more so for people in the UK.

Anna said...

I'm curious about the teeth removal as well, though not sure I could read that part. It hurts just thinking about it!

Diary of an Eccentric