Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Daughter of earth (Smedley)

This wonderful autobiographical novel, telling us about the experiences of Agnes Smedley through the character of Marie Rogers. The book is split into a number of distinct parts. At first, she lives on a farm with her family, until they up sticks and follow her father as he takes jobs on the railroads and as coal hauler. At one point her mother runs a boarding house, and from an early age Marie also goes out to work, although she has excellent educational abilities. marie then becomes a school teacher, but only for a while as her mother dies and she returns home to look after the rest of the family. She is keen to continue studying however, and leaves to try to make money to get an education by working as a salesperson. She marries Knut, another scholar, but after a traumatic abortion which she insists on in order to pursue her educaiton, they get divorced. WW2 arrives and Marie becomes involved in socialist circles, but finds it difficult to really become involved due to her status as a woman and she takes up the cause of the people working for Indian emancipation. As a result, she is unfairly imprisoned. After the war ends, she is released and works as a journalist and eventually remarries, but this marriage also fails to work out and the book ends with her leaving for Denmark to live with a friend there.

The poverty of Marie's childhood is absolutely heartbreaking; there is a scene where she attends the birthday party of a rich white girl from her school. Marie pleads with her mother to be allowed to take a couple of bananas as a birthday present; her mother reluctantly agrees to this extravagance. But when Marie arrives she finds the other children giving books, toys, silver - such things that she has never seen before. Marie enjoys the tea, but none of the children ask her to be their partner in the games and she is forced to leave early, pretending illness, as she is so embarassed.

An absolutely engrossing read, I found myself fascinated by Smedley. 4*

Published twice by Virago, although using the same picture, I have a copy of the earlier edition.

1 comment:

  1. I read this one and really enjoyed it. Smedley was an activist and writer and should really be more well known than she is.