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LIVING BACKWARDS by Carl Dawson

LIVING BACKWARDS

A Transatlantic Memoir

By Carl Dawson

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8139-1633-X
Publisher: Univ. of Virginia

 Immigration and exile work both ways in this well-told memoir of a Yorkshire family's immigration to Southern California in 1948 and their almost all-American son's return as a schoolboy in 1952. For his memoir's first part (originally published in 1990 as November 1948) Dawson (English/Univ. of Delaware) incorporates the story of his childhood transplantation from a small Yorkshire village to booming Los Angeles in 1948. His father's parents had emigrated years before, but after the war, Dawson's father moves with his wife and three children to escape industrial Yorkshire's decline and enter his go-getting brother's business. Tapping his lucid memory, Dawson vividly conveys his childish sense of the new, juxtaposing the Pennines and dales with Southern California's sunny desert. More subtly, he also takes on his parents' perspectivestheir sense of exile and their financial anxietiesand relates them to the larger context of constricted English weariness and expansive American optimism. The second, newly written half reverses direction when the adolescent Dawson returns to his grandparents' former village of Calverley. These experiences attempt to address more directly the questions of identity and history as his reabsorption results in manifold culture shock. Splits occur between his Aunt Dot, a millworker, and his shabby-genteel teachers and between the memorials of the Industrial Revolution (embodied in the model factory of the philanthropic if paternalistic Titus Salt) and the burgeoning American century's artifacts (such as the film High Noon with Gary Cooper). Although Dawson left after a year, still ambivalent about both homes, he dwells more on his native Yorkshire, not going very far into his American identity beyond cars and high schools. Still, a talented memoirist with an eye for character and speech, Dawson does a credible job of weaving together social and family history, threaded through with his identity's unresolved predicament.