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5.0 out of 5 stars Most powerful book I've read in a decade, 6 Oct. 2013
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I write this having just given up the struggle to read the superb last para aloud to my husband, in the sunlight of Sunday morning breakfast - couldn't stop crying. But that is not just to do with the quality of the last paragraph, it is to do with the amazingly complex reality Lyndall Gordon has achieved for the lives she had recreated over the duration of these pages - unknown, forgotten lives of the friends with whom she shared her own life, and who have died, but left behind such a strong imprint that she revisits them, wanders with them, in dreams and in the revery of this book. It is that rare thing in the formulaic landscape of publishing, a completely original book - can think of no models for this shared biography of unknown lives. Gordon has written about the famous - the best bio of Virginia Woolf, bios of TS Eliot, Emily Dickinson, etc - but here she is faithful to her friends, who loved her, criticised her, even, sometimes, changed the path that she took, changed the person she became. It is, among so many other things, a powerful reply to celebrity culture that tells us only famous people are worth knowing or thinking about. The effect it has had on me is so powerful that I have immediately started reading it again. I would write a longer review, but one result of reading this meditation on mortality is to make the reader eager to get out and live more fully - and the sun is shining - and I am going out now, before it clouds over, with this unfortgettable, courageous, subtle, loving book in my bag. Thank you Lyndall Gordon - I feel I have lived with you, and through you, for the 2 weeks it has taken me to finish this book, while I struggled with the completion of a big piece of work of my own - uplifted by Shared Lives.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sympathetic and empathetic exploration of young women growing up in a restrictive community in a turbulent time, 16 Nov. 2014
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Shared Lives is mainly about the life of one woman, Fruma/ Flora whom the author met for the first time at school in Cape Town in the 1950s. There were other girls who also maintained a relationship with Fruma and the author draws on their memories as well as her own to build up a biography of a young woman who died at a relatively early age. The book explores the school relationships of these girls as they go through school on on into adulthood. At least two others of the group also die young. It looks at the choices they make as adults and the effect of growing up in a Jewish community in South Africa.

I enjoyed the book because it raises the question of how self realisation is achieved when one's life is restricted by being a woman, and by expectations to conform to community norms when the education these women received should have liberated them. Intelligent and well educated, they were expected to marry as virgins, bring up children and run homes for the convenience of their equally well educated husbands and give up their careers and academic pursuits for the convenience of their husbands.

Funnily enough, I actually felt that the author who obviously feels that she was more liberated as she had a husband who determined that she should continue her academic work was equally restricted. She had to study or work in institutions in the cities in which he worked in America. He also seems to have determined her field of study - biography.

The book is very absorbing but not necessarily easy to read. The syntax is at times convoluted and lack of punctuation means sentences have to be reread to make sense of them. The stories are not linear (which I actually enjoyed) because the author did not maintain a linear relationship with her subjects. Living abroad in America, she has obviously been out of the loop so it is on her return trips to Cape Town that she catches up with the lives of her former school friends. To finish her book, she has to interview people whose lives have moved on and whose memories and historical understanding of events make this book a very interesting biography of women who have no particular importance other that the fact that they were once friends.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 22 July 2014
P. Fairhurst (Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England) - See all my reviews
Very evocative account of 1950s South Africa and the stultifying restrictions on women generally at that time.
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