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.
the salesman, out to sell the virtues of Shirley Compton, a bob-haired pretty enough young thing from one of Sydney's dullest tracts of suburbia to whom the rakish, muchtravelled (at least within the borders of New South Wales) Sampson Collins was the answer to her prayers and that of her girlfriends languishing in Tempe, Arncliffe and Marrickville, for whom a day out in the purlieus of Bondi was something to be remembered. And that was where my father took her, hanging on his arm as he sauntered
succoured were either secret or erratically kept, as I discovered when, more than halfway through my life, in the vaults of the Mitchell Library, I tried to find some record of my stay. There was a telephone booth downstairs in the common room of the Commercial Travellers' Club. Sampson Collins took his address book and his gold Eversharp propelling pencil into the tiny cubicle and proceeded to give Shirley, the club's telephoniste, a series of numbers to call. After nearly an hour, he had nine
she was not Australian or at least Australianborn. She put down her two full string bags and we looked into each other's eyes. I waited for her to come out with the 'You're poor . . .' and so on. I took my eyes from her face and focused on the rings on both her hands. Even in the badly lit shop interior some glowed and others sparkled. The furrows from the handles of the two string bags she had been carrying had left their marks on her hands, forcing the rings deeper into her flesh. 'You're Alan
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
towel sells for? Nineteen and eleven, that's what I would normally sell it for, but for you, as you're family,' he drew breath, 'only fifteen bob - always assuming you've got the means to pay.' What did I know about family? Not much when you add it up. My Aunt Enid, a long-dead Aunt Fanny stretched out in her wooden box, a few bestforgotten others. I didn't count my father's numerous wives as family. Yet I felt I could trust 'Uncle' Arthur Symonds. Don't ask me why. In front of him, I unbuttoned