CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Elfreida Read

Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1989.136pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-7565-5 (cloth) $25.95, 0-88750-757-3 (paper) $12.95.

Grades 8 and up/Ages 13 and up
Reviewed by Louise Dick.

Volume 17 Number 5
1989 September

This first part of a projected three-part autobiography, in which Read recalls her life as a Russian-born Estonian growing up in 1920's Shanghai, is a bijou, a quietly sparkling gem. Three-year-old Read and her comfortably wealthy family fled the Bolshevik Revolution in 1923.

The first person narrative of daily routine and special celebrations brings to life family, friends, and a European Shanghai where foreigners encounter Chinese only as servants. Gradually the young Read becomes aware of inequality, prejudice, and stereotyping. Security of family and religion are threatened by her teenage awakening to the injustice of such labels as "superior" English, Chinese "servants," Jewish "troublemakers." In her family only her father suggests that individu­als rather than races or nations may be "good" or "bad," and only partially so. A visit to Peking reveals wonders of Chinese art and architecture that seem incompatible with a nation despised in its own land. In 1934 Read returns to Shanghai, unaware of the upheaval underway in China, which is about to break upon her life.

The simplicity and warmth of this story of childhood hopes and fears, its sense of realism and immediacy, and its vivid characterizations make A Time of Cicadas a remarkable story for young people and adults to savour. It is a coming-of-age chronicle, not a sexual awakening but an awakening to the world beyond the family with its variety of peoples and individuals. I look forward to Read's continuation of her story and hope she will include more photographs next time.

Louise Dick, Toronto, Ont.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works