Ash On a Young Man's Sleeve by Dannie Abse

By Dannie Abse

This pleasant autobiography skillfully interweaves the fortunes of a Jewish Welsh relatives opposed to the stricken Nineteen Thirties; unemployment, the increase of Hitler, and the Spanish Civil conflict.

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England was alien and yet the boys were going up North or to London, losing their own tongue, their own language, their own customs. Going to an alien country and feeling clumsy and different and disliked. ‘Bugger the rain,’ said Alun. And Gwennie was thinking how one-third of a miner’s life had to be spent away from the fresh air and sunlight. She didn’t want Alun to get silicosis like her father and her grandfather. She didn’t want to wake up in the morning hearing Alun coughing and gasping for breath.

And then he stared into the fire again. I walked over to the window, almost on tiptoe, afraid to disturb him. I gazed out. Down the road I could see snow falling under the lamp-post, and above, between the clouds, a few stars in the cold sky. ’ I asked. ’ I asked. ‘’S all right,’ he said, and for a moment we smiled at each other. * * * My mother seemed very angry. She kept on talking and talking. ‘Not in front of the kinder,’ my father pleaded. ’ she barked at Leo. ‘Out,’ he said. ’ ‘I’m eighteen,’ he replied obstinately.

I thought I heard a motion from the other side of the synagogue. My heart turned over beating fast. Were there not footsteps coming towards me? I held my breath that I might listen better. Surely I could hear someone breathing nearby. He was behind me, I knew it, I was afraid. I ran out from the silence, from the dark, into the glittering sunshine and the loud street, not even daring to glance over my shoulder. I didn’t want to see the face of God. It would have been a face of space and silence.

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