- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Random House; 1st U.S. ed edition (February 15, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679420568
- ISBN-13: 978-0679420569
- Product Dimensions: 1 x 9.5 x 6.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #469,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Stand Before Your God: A Boarding-School Memoir Hardcover – February 15, 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
"I grew up in jolts, from one suddenly realized thing to another," writes Watkins, whose first novel, Night Over Day Over Night , was nominated for the Booker Prize. In this first nonfiction work, he applies his generous, fully controlled prose to an examination of his not-so-distant boyhood and the sources of his calling. American-born of Welsh ancestry, Watkins was sent at the age of seven to the Dragon School, an English boarding school, where he would prepare for his later entrance to Eton. His moving, unsentimental narrative captures his responses to being separated from his family and thrust into another country and, simultaneously, his feelings of becoming an alien in his own land, which he visited on vacations. Recollections of loneliness and schoolboy cruelties blend with memories of his Rhode Island home, time spent with his family and his awareness that his father was dying. Yet Watkins credits the rigors of English schooling with prompting him to "chisel out an hour here and there . . . setting sail in the great full-sail schooner of my dreams."
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
YA-When he was six years old, Paul Watkins's Welsh-born parents, who resided in America, dressed him up and delivered him at the imposing building outside Oxford. He soon realized, as his father left, that he would be here for far more than a few hours. "Here" was the Dragon School, a boarding school in the English countryside, and Paul was to study there for about six years, before entering another bastion of British public education, Eton. With humor and pathos, the young "Yank" from Providence tells of the years that molded him. He does not seek sympathy, for much of what he gained in independence and self-knowledge is a direct result of his schooling, but he shares with readers his sense of isolation and lack of identification with either of his national backgrounds. The boyish pranks and disasters as well as the triumphs in this privileged atmosphere contrast with his vacations at a Welsh farm with paternal relations or at home in Providence. He finds that writing gives him a "place" to belong and is his safety valve. His stories flow from his sense of "search[ing] for a homeland, to be worthy of it and to be accepted, even to have a homeland at all." This book will appeal to YAs because of its immediately identifiable feelings and the universal themes of growing and finding one's niche.
Susan H. Woodcock, King's Park Library, Burke, VA
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
By his own admission, Watkins's coming of age did not occur gradually, but the growth came in "jolts, from one suddenly realized thing to another ... It seems that in some years I would stay the same and at other times, I would be jolted four times in a week." (pg. 144) Since his memoir chronicles these jolts that occurred during his boarding school years, there is a lack of smooth flow in the book. That is not to say it is bad in anyway, but it isn't a biography of his boarding school years. It isn't a book about what it's like to attend Dragon or Eton. On many occasions, the reader hardly knows what year Paul is in school. Traditions and idiosyncracies of the schools are mentioned in passing, but rarely explained.
It is a book about what it was like for Paul Watkins to grow up at Dragon and Eton. It is a truly moving coming-of-age story. Watkins demonstrates an amazing memory, and the first chapters (his early years) seem to be spoken by a scared and lonely six-year-old boy. He eloquently describes the events that shaped his life including his father's death from cancer during his first year at Eton.
The one thing I found to be lacking was a conclusion saying where his friends are now. Perhaps that is because Watkins doesn't know himself. Since the memoir is about his coming-of-age, friends and family only appear on the peripheral. I was also left with the impression that Watkins had few close friends. Three, in particular though, were important enough in his life to make an impression on me as a reader. I was left wondering where they might be now. That is a very minor point though and may not have served the book well after all.
That aside, this is a very good book. I couldn't put in down and suffered for that lack of will power the next day. It was not so much that I was engrossed in what was happening, but I needed to find out what was going to happen to Paul. I couldn't wait to find out how he made it through school. I recommend this book.
I would have given it five stars if it had a better ending telling what was the current status of the boys and teachers he told about in the book. It being written ten years after he graduated from Eton. If there is ever a new edition, I hope such an epilogue is added. Or...
I would enjoy it if the author were to make a sequel where he goes around and interviews his old school chums after these many years. To gain their reflection. To exchange school tales. To get a perspective on each other. To find out what happened to them ... both the living and the dead. Even going so far as doing a bit of private investigation work to verify facts and claims. I think that would be a very interesting and engaging read.