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For these memories of childhood in the golden era before the First War, the years (1911) in Peking are the real excuse. Brooke Astor's father was a career officer in the Marines (later Commandant of the corps), and his various postings made for a disparate childhood in Hawaii, Panama, Peking, Washington and Santo Domingo. They were in Peking in the last year of the Manchu dynasty: one of Brooke Astor's memories is scurrying home from school past pigtailed heads hanging from tripods in the street that was the revolution so far as she was concerned. Diplomatic personnel lived within a walled compound in the imperial city; behind those walls adults and children enjoyed a hectic and internecine social life. A child's life in this curious enclosed circus was strenuous, not to mention the adult revels, which included extravagant parties in fancy dress and picnics which innumerable servants had prepared since dawn. These reminiscences of diplomatic life from a child's point of view, as well as glimpses of the Chinese city, are intriguing. For the rest, Brooke Astor hasn't the sensitivity and perceptiveness which would make familiar material significant, and so her recollections of Washington in her early teens -- the careful chaperoning, the sexual ignorance, her first Princeton -- are cheerful and bright, but really rather ordinary.

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 1962
Publisher: Harper & Row