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A moving and harrowing childhood autobiography
on 13 June 2012
Jane Hersey is in her fifties, lives in Blackpool, is married with a grown-up son and enjoys music and gardening. Nothing remarkable about that until you read her moving and disturbing childhood autobiography "Breath in the Dark" and wonder how she survived into adulthood at all.
Jane was born into the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of Cheetham Hill in Manchester. She was the middle child, she had two brothers. Shortly after the birth of her younger brother her father abandoned the family, leaving the children in the care of their mother Annie.
Annie simply couldn't cope. She suffered from depression, asthma, diabetes and a compulsive eating disorder. She was addicted to prescription drugs and spent most of her life asleep on the sofa. The family survived on National Assistance payments and handouts from Jewish welfare agencies. When Jane was just six years old Annie depended on her daughter to cash the National Assistance money, blag the doctor or the chemist to give her more amphetamines and to sell the second hand clothes that the community provided to pay for food.
Jane's childhood was non-existent. All her waking hours were devoted to her mother's and her brothers' needs. She was socially isolated, physically and emotionally neglected, and sexually abused by her father on the few occasions when she came into contact with him. Her plight was known to other family members, the school and welfare agencies but the support provided was lamentable. Jane was what we now call a young carer but the term hadn't been invented at the time.
Jane tells her story through the unmoderated voice of her childhood self. The voice is intense, innocent and powerful. The book begins when she is six and ends abruptly when she is fifteen and breaks away from the community that had failed her so miserably.
"Breath in the Dark" must be read by anybody with a professional interest in the issues it raises, and also by anybody who wants to be moved by such a powerful story. As Jane herself says about her work `The issues which are raised are still as relevant today and affect the lives of many children and young adults who never find a voice'.