The opening page of "Cider with Rosie" describes the world through the eyes of a toddler - mysterious, unpredictable, worryingly large. Laurie Lee's genius is to keep this magical, subjective, viewpoint intact throughout the book, growing as the author grows, understanding with each chapter more of the world he swims through, a wondering, innocent, cunning, superstitious presence. Although this book is often recommended for an insight into rural life a few decades ago - and by any standard, it is one of the best books on the subject - it is for his mastery of the "child's eye view" that we should respect the writer. He resists all temptations to be "cute", he refrains from commenting on his memories, he presents them to us in utter purity. By reading it, each of us, rural or not, is able to recapture the experience of being a small child.
Towards the latter part of the book, as the narrator matures and gains a more grown-up perspective, we see more of the darker side of his world, and at last understand that this is an elegy for something that Lee, even as he lived it, began to realise was slipping from his grasp. The emeotion we feel is not the sentimental nostalgia of TV's Lark Rise To Candleford, but Lee's own grief for what he cannot now recapture, except by writing this book.
"Cider with Rosie" will make you laugh and cry, but your feelings are never manipulated for effect. Every emotion you will feel is genuine and springs from deep wihin your own experience of being a child, and growing up. This edition, with the drawings by John Ward is the one to get - their nervous, unpolished line and strange quiet power make them the perfect companion to the words; they will send shivers down your spine.
For a factual, but equally magical picture of life in a Suffolk village just after the Second World War try Akenfield. For poems that will bring you something of the same feeling as Cider with Rosie, read A Shropshire Lad (Dover Thrift).