Alfred and Emily
By Doris Lessing
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780060834883, 288pp.)
Publication Date: August 2008
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I think my father's rage at the trenches took me over, when I was very young, and has never left me. Do children feel their parents' emotions? Yes, we do, and it is a legacy I could have done without. What is the use of it? It is as if that old war is in my own memory, my own consciousness.
In this extraordinary book, the 2007 Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing explores the lives of her parents, each irrevocably damaged by the Great War. Her father wanted the simple life of an English farmer, but shrapnel almost killed him in the trenches, and thereafter he had to wear a wooden leg. Her mother, Emily, spent the war nursing the wounded in the Royal Free Hospital after her great love, a doctor, drowned in the Channel.
In the fictional first half of Alfred and Emily, Doris Lessing imagines the happier lives her parents might have made for themselves had there been no war; a story that begins with their meeting at a village cricket match outside Colchester. This is followed by a piercing examination of their relationship as it actually was in the shadow of the Great War, of the family's move to Africa, and of the impact of her parents' marriage on a young woman growing up in a strange land.
"Here I still am," says Doris Lessing, "trying to get out from under that monstrous legacy, trying to get free." Triumphantly, with the publication of Alfred and Emily, she has done just that.
“A clever, moving coupling of fiction and nonfiction. ALFRED & EMILY is...a testament to [Lessing’s] ongoing literary vitality.”
-Washington Post Book World
“An odd and powerful excursion into lost time. . . . a powerful reminder not only of Lessing’s past but also of how each of us can return to our own and come back with something precious.”
-San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“Alfred and Emily reveals why Lessing deserved literature’s highest honor. There is a remarkable level of courage, honesty, and wisdom in Alfred and Emily. . . . Lessing, nearing 90, continues to surprise.”
“Lessing’s taste for discomfiting truths is as evident as ever…as bracing and engaging as anything she has written.”
“She has never displayed her potent imagination to better effect, or her gift for probing realism . . . a profoundly moving memoir and portrait of a marriage.”
-Wall Street Journal
“Laced with the subtlest of observations and the wryest of wit...This unusual marriage of fiction and memoir (and family photographs) results in a book at once spellbinding, rueful, and tragic.”
-Booklist (starred review)
“A truly intriguing piece of work...the book is also an interesting glimpse of an empire and an era.”
-Christian Science Monitor
“An intriguing work . . . [that] shimmers with precisely remembered details.”
-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“A stirring exploration . . . gently yet deeply moving”
-Minneapolis Star Tribune