CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Elfreida Read

Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1989. 135pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-773-5 (cloth) $25.95, 0-88750-774-3 (paper) $12.95

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

Volume 18 Number 3
1990 May

"We first heard the guns in late August, 1937..." heralding Japanese invasion and occupation of Shanghai. The autobiography begun in A Time of Cicadas continues through the Pearl Harbor attack, when "Shanghai [had] become one big internment camp."

In the cocoon of Shanghai's International Settlement, sixteen-year-old Elfreida is absorbed in her Estonian immigrant family circle and preoccupied with the stratified social milieu, which puts English at the top and Jews, emigrant Russians (and Estonians) and ultimately Chinese at the bottom. Elfreida finds that loyalty to family conflicts with a desire to "belong" to the English group of her school friends. Her desire to break free from her family's "restrictive watchfulness" is briefly realized in evacuation to Hong Kong. Growth from adolescence to adulthood brings appreciation of her family's true worth - a pride in their values and tenacity. Elfreida also becomes aware of the injustice of wealth and privilege, racial prejudice, and sexual harassment.

Elfreida's ability to "shut out speculation and retreat to an inner strongroom of my own making" is a source of strength but also delays her understanding of events and conditions around her. It is her English socialist boyfriend who forces her to think and to form tentative opinions of her own. They are married and observe New Year 1943 while expecting to be taken for internment: "The magnolias bud, bloom, die. We wait."

Teenage readers will sympathize with Elfreida's resentment of family protection. They may laugh at her vocabulary (boyfriend is "my main swain"). Some will identify with her loss of religious faith and longing for something to replace it. The sincerity, simplicity and skill in characterization of A Time of Cicadas continue to make this second part of Read's story an equally captivating tale.

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