The haunting memoir of a troubled Irish family irrevocably torn apart by World War II.
The ill-omened Carroll family—parents Bridie and Jim, children Mary, Noel, Ronnie and Clare, and their grandmother—arrives in London on the brink of war. Fleeing the poverty of their native Ireland, the Carrolls seem unlikely candidates for success; in particular, Jim has more charm than job qualifications. Britain’s decision to evacuate London’s children to rural locations—purportedly for their safety—is made against the advice of the experts, which proves disastrous for the Carrolls. With Jim in the army, Bridie says goodbye to her children. Unfortunately, the foster homes weren’t vetted: First, the Carroll children went to a home where the husband molested Mary. Next, the Carrolls were sent to a more appropriate home in Cornwall, but the husband was soon called into service. For their last placement, the children were separated, with Mary and Clare sent to a convent, cared for by nuns who ignored preschool-age Clare, while Noel and Ronnie were sent to the home of evil Mrs. Meally, by turns neglectful and abusive. The war over, the Carrolls sought a return to the normalcy that eluded them. Carroll shares the tragic stories of each of his siblings after the war; despite differences in their lives, each sibling battles alcoholism, brought on, Carroll argues, by their wartime experiences. Ronnie Carroll alone manages to achieve sobriety and success, which he credits to his childhood protection by Noel. While books about wartime evacuation tend to feature bucolic settings, this memoir paints an uncompromising picture of opportunistic Britons seeking the ration cards and unpaid labor of children torn from their parents. Though poignant and heartbreaking, Carroll manages to end his memoir on a strong note of optimism—undoubtedly what helped him survive his experiences. Occasionally repetitious and marred by lax editing, Carroll’s story is nonetheless nearly impossible to put down. Once finished, it’s nearly impossible to forget.
A powerful, beautiful memoir about the deep scars of war.