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A Childhood: The Biography of a Place Hardcover – October 1, 1995

4.7 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

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)

From the Back Cover

A Childhood is the unforgettable memoir of Harry Crews's earliest years, a sharply remembered portrait of the people, locales, and circumstances that shaped him - and destined him to be a storyteller. Crews was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in a one-room sharecropper's cabin at the end of a dirt road in rural south Georgia. If Bacon County was a place of grinding poverty, poor soil, and blood feuds, it was also a deeply mystical place, where snakes talked, birds could possess a small boy by spitting in his mouth, and faith healers and conjure women kept ghosts and devils at bay. At once shocking and elegiac, heartrending and comical, A Childhood not only recalls the transforming events of Crews's youth but conveys his growing sense of self in a world "in which survival depended on raw courage, a courage born out of desperation and sustained by a lack of alternatives".
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (October 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820317594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820317595
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By T. Bravender on March 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Although this book is not a typical work by the literate master of the hard South, it is a testament to his talent. This book made me see and feel the life of a 6 year old dirt farmer in Bacon Co, Georgia, and also give some insight into the basis of characters in Crews' fictional works. This is one of the best quasi-memoirs ever written, and even has a slight belief in human goodness not seen in his other work. Mr. Crews' more typical works (such as Feast of Snakes or All We Need of Hell) are very good novels in their own right, yet Childhood stands apart and above all of his other books combined. If you read nothing else by Harry Crews (which is not a good idea--you should read many of his books), this is the one to choose.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I received an excellent recommendation on this book, from Annie Dillard. I had written her to express my admiration for her moving memoir An American Childhood, concerning her upbringing in Pittsburgh during the Eisenhower `50's. She responded, with thanks, and made a singular recommendation: another memoir of childhood, this one, by Harry Crews. In terms of childhood experiences, they are poles apart. Crews' was raised, dirt poor as the expression has it, in Bacon County, deep rural southeast Georgia, during the Depression. Dillard's was a middle class upbringing, during the post-World War II prosperity years.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
Crew's A Childhood: Biography of a Place is not a novel, nor is it a history, biography, autobiography, or memoir in any traditional sense,
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
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Format: Hardcover
I was assigned this book in a tutorial class on the "mind of the south" by a professor during my senior year of college. I was immediately drawn to the author's experiences with tenant farming; being the son of a mother whose own father was a farmer that oversaw several tenents to his own farming operation prior to, and shortly after WWII. Crew's accurate depection of tenant farmer life was valididated, to this reader at least, by his portrayal of an agricultural system that was difficult to not only rural agricultural African Americans, but their white supervisors. Crews has done a wonderful job of incorporating the distinctly southern phrases and dialogue of the rural, agrarian south. I though my own mother was the only person who pronounced "hurricane" as "harrakin". Charachters such as Willalee Bookatee and his family were strikingly similar to those poor blacks, and whites, described in my mother's stories of working in the tobacco fields of rural NC. This book will shed some much needed light on the fact that the hard-core, rural south is not so far removed from the remodeled "New South".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As mentioned by another reviewer, if you're not familiar with Harry Crews, this is a good place to start. Then read his novel _Scar Lover_, and you'll see the connections.

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.
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