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.
husband's arm. Ma Compton propelled me forward with a bony finger in the small of my back and the frequent use of 'brat' when the need arose to speak to me. Our tour group scrambled up and down the little hills as Francis Street wormed its way from the beachfront towards the junction with Wellington Street, a distance of just over half a mile. Rows of simple little semi-detached cottages were sometimes interrupted by stolid blocks of flats on the low side of the street providing dark,
aura. Gertie nodded, mouthed my name silently and with a swish of her dress skipped to the front gate. She paused and waved by fluttering her fingers and once more became a little girl, consciously skipping down Francis Street like the saccharine little girls in her storybooks. By this encounter, my fear of the stick insect had been reduced ever so slightly; when she now slapped my face, I barely felt it. She called me brat but I was sure I detected a tiny crack in her ferocious facade. Maybe
down my sides, had to agree with her. Oddly enough, I felt no resentment - rather, a warm feeling, a sense of being safe with her, the more so when she rose from her chair and stood behind me with both her hands on my shoulders. She reached over and opened her handbag which lay on the table and took out a small folder, putting it in front of me. She remained standing behind my chair, her fingers curled into the hollows of my shoulderblades. When she spoke again there was a tremor in her voice.
stealing from the greengrocers. On the field he would single me out at the orange break, yelling, 'Over here, Ikey!' One day after the game he grabbed me by the arm, streaming sweat and reeking of liniment. 'Ikey, listen to me. I see crooks every day and they start off like you, stealing a few spuds and then, Christ knows where they finish. If you want money, you've got to work for it.' It's alright for you, I thought, looking at his massive legs and arms, you could lift a tram back on its
older than I was. He and Beryl had begged Sam to give them the care of the newborn child to raise with their own. Why did he refuse? Was it to 'snout' Grandma Davis, a mother-in-law who saw him as the epitome of everything she had heard and willingly believed about the alleged lurid ways of commercial travellers? She had read the riot act to 26-year-old Alva for keeping company with Sampson Collins, 40-something and divorced after only two years. His marriage to my mother was recorded in the