CHILDHOOD by André Alexis

CHILDHOOD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A splendid debut by Canadian writer Alexis (Trinidadian-born): a wistful remembrance of growing up, posing as a love letter to the narrator’s paramour. Thomas Macmillan begins by thinking about love, his longing for the recipient of this “letter,” and about affection itself, as witnessed in his parents Henry and Katarina, both recently dead. His daily itinerary consists of reading, writing, and thinking of the intended, and in the monotony of this routine, he recalls his childhood, far from idyllic yet told with such grace that the simplicity of it becomes a charm. Deserted by his mother (and biological father, always unknown to him), young Thomas goes to live with his cantankerous grandmother, an ex-school marm with a penchant for dandelion wine. The two share an uneasy alliance in a small Canadian city, living in a mutual agreement to stay out of each other’s way. Thomas’s early years in the mid-’60s are filled with nature, comic books, and first loves—among them next-door neighbor Mrs. Schwartz, a childhood friend of his enigmatic mother’s. It is through Mrs. Schwartz that Thomas begins to know Katarina, indeed all through his life she is only real to him through the reflection of others. When at ten his grandmother dies, and Katarina comes to retrieve him, a new, wondrous chapter in his childhood begins when the two go to Ottawa and the house of Henry Wing. An eccentric, charming man, Henry woos Katarina with poetry and Thomas with alchemy. Becoming a surrogate father, he introduces him to the world of the mind, and to the world of love through his untiring example of devotion for the reckless Katarina. Even when Katarina finds her own apartment, and takes other, usually abusive lovers, Henry remains loyal to her, and to Thomas, who remains in his library-like home. Filled with anecdotal footnotes, simple lists, and snippets of poetry, these inserted structures serve to bring form to the most vaporous subject: the nature of love. A genuinely elegant work.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-5981-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998




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