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A Childhood: The Biography of a Place Hardcover – October 1, 1995
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Crews is, obviously, a unique southern raconteur. . . . It's easy to despise poor folks. A Childhood makes it more difficult. It raises almost to a level of heroism these people who seem of a different century. A Childhood is not about a forgotten America, it is about a part of America that has rarely, except in books like this, been properly discovered.(New York Times Book Review)
It is Crews' great gift that he can show us how absolutely cursed, and alsolutely beautiful, we are. . . . Crews burns through the easy ways in which we would like to regard ourselves; what he leaves behind is something better, something touched by the refiner's fire.(New York Newsday)
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Crews is still with us, so the events that he so evocatively describes, have occurred in the span of one lifetime. He grew up in a one room sharecropper's cabin. In the era where agriculture is dominated by multinationals, it is useful to recall that "sharecropping," that is, farming someone else's land for a percentage of the take, was one of the most fundamental principles that permitted grave inequalities in income. Crews prose is earthy and unpretentious, and he has a keen ear for the patois of rural Georgia. Despite, or is rather because of the poverty, there was a strong sense of family and the community which he aptly depicts.
The scene that I most vividly recall is when the children were playing "crack the whip." In this era of endless electronic distractions for kids, does the game still exist? Each child hold hands, the leader makes a sudden turn, and the centripetal force throws the last child off. In Crews' case, it was a bright, cold February, 1941, when there was much joy since they were slaughtering hogs, and knew lots of meat would be available. In the process, a large trough of scalding water is set up, to facilitate the removal of the hair and bristles. "Crack the whip" threw Crews into the trough, one of those childhood accidents that are too often fatal. The author obviously survived. He describes how burns were treated, ultimately at home, long before the worries of will the health insurance pay.
"Did you git your commodity?" Crews explains that he has subsequently learned several other definitions for the word "commodity": "...but in my secret heart I'll always know what commodity means: `free food that comes on a truck.'" Crews was in the Marines during the Korean War, and returned to Bacon County in 1956. He looked up, and cursed the sun. He writes: "And in Bacon County you don't curse the sun or the rain or the land or God. They are all the same thing. To curse any of them is an ultimate blasphemy."
The University of Georgia Press did an outstanding job in publishing this work, utilizing the service of Michael McCurdy, a renowned illustrator and designer who provided drawings not only for the cover, but another around 20 throughout the text. Aspiring writers should take heart: he applied, and was denied a place as a student in the University of Florida's Creative Writing program. After the publication of some of his work, he was invited back as a professor for the program. 5-stars for this work.
rather it seems to be all these quilted together.
A Childhood recounts the author's earliest memories of his upbringing in rural Georgia, as well as a fictionalized account of his father who died before the author's birth. This book is a testament to his childhood playmates and the folks that were kind to his poverty stricken family, as well as to the first fictional characters he conjured up out of the Sears and Roebuck Catalog.
The book recounts a great many firsts, from the first time he ate grapefruit, to the first time he
"started and nearly finished a detective novel, although at the time I had never seen a novel, detective or otherwise," to the first personal encounter with death.
The "place" made mention of in the subtitle is the author's home of Bacon County, which has become a mythic landscape for me; I think of it in the same way many think
This is simply the most evocative and beautiful memoir I have ever read. The man is amazing.
I know that his novels tend to shock some people. But reading this book helps us understand where he's coming from--both literally and figuratively.
I spent a day at Harry's house this summer (July 2011), and he was gracious and hospitable--and tons of fun. He cussed up a storm, but he just exuded wisdom. He's 76. He can't use his legs, and he has all kinds of health problems. But he still has that gleam in his eye, and he's working on his 18th book. He gets up at 4 a.m. every morning and writes 500 words. Long may he live.