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A Life Apart: The Fate of an Outsider Paperback – 29 Apr 2015
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Identity is a key resonating theme throughout this book, born of an Irish father, a sea captain operating in the Eastern Mediterranean from home port of Alexandria, who dies of an accident at sea while Patrick Grigsby is still a baby and a mother who is a mixture of English and Christian Arab of Syria. Mersin was a relatively minor port on the south coast of Turkey, reflecting Patrick's mixed origins, neither in Europe, Asia and Middle East, but having elements of all these realms, a multicultural, multilingual city, so common in the past in the Levant, now so rare. Yet ironically this diversity is now almost ubiquitous in Western Europe, the new El-Dorado of the masses, yet this new urban confusion seems to miss the closeness of inter-community relationships conveyed in the stories of old Mersin. So young Patrick is twice a stranger, both in the East as a child, speaking at home or out, either English, French, Arabic or Turkish, depending on the company, yet not wholly part of any of these cultures, and a stranger in his education in the very English surroundings of the boarding school in Istanbul and later England.
It is the keen observation right from early childhood, and his clear memory, conveyed in a flowing language that makes this book a worthwhile read. Otherwise it would be a dull autobiography by and about a relatively unimportant person. It is also a tale of cities, the ways, morals, habit and customs of people in Mersin, Hurstpierpoint (the boarding school in England), Lincoln (where he did his engineering apprenticeship), and other parts of England work took him in later life. The contrasts of his experiences in these different times and places in England are also well illustrated with anecdotes, where rules - particularly in the public schools - are the stifling straightjackets of life.
This book is also about loss of lifestyles and traditions. Mersin is a former shadow of itself as far as diversity goes, most of the Christian population is now in America, Canada and elsewhere, the European population long gone, and the England described is also a world that has faded away. Yet it is more than idle nostalgia, it is a mirror to an earlier English culture, both in England and abroad. The arrogance of various sections of Britain's industrialists are put in sharp focus when Patrick is told openly by a Levantine in Izmir, Turkey in the 1950s that it isn't the quality of machinery that is of paramount importance but how much money it would make for them before they would inevitably be replaced with technological innovation. The Victorian engineering dictates of quality and durability were clearly getting outdated and Patrick sensed the glory days of Britain were coming to an end, before virtually anybody else got wind of things.
And it is a study of human struggle and resilience as Patrick's family single-mindedly strive for the best education, best prospects for the young boy, yet ironically, it is their success and Patrick's perseverance and luck in being offered employment in England that would make him a stranger again, this time with no going back, leaving Mersin and his family. A life apart once again.
Throughout the book, one senses an inner strength in Patrick as he struggled with the cultural differences between the different nationalities with which circumstances forced him to live. His extraordinary memory provides fascinating details of people and situations that steered him through an eventful life whichA Life Apart: The Fate Of An Outsider is laid bare here for the reader to empathise with. Highly Recommended.
"A Life Apart" makes for easy reading. Described with remarkable candour, a boy's hardships in early childhood shared with his rather puritanical, widowed mother. Then in his adolescence sex rears its head much to her displeasure. Her inept ways of dealing with this unexpected intruder are hilarious. The narrative starts in South Eastern Turkey in a coastal town with a colourful mixture of people. During the 1939-45 War it was a veritable melting pot of cloak and dagger intrigue. At the end of hostilities, the boy by then a 14 years old was packed off to England, West Sussex to be precise. He grapples with a whole new way of life into the 1950's. Add to this the nostalgic perceptions of a bygone age and you have what even the non-readers could not fail to be drawn into.
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