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Book: Forebears by John Needham

Book: Forebears by John Needham

categories: Book, 20th Century History, Nostalgia, Feminism, Social History, Love, Life, Death, War, Peace, Happiness, Sorrow, Family History


John Needham

Author John Needhamabout this book: Jay Harding thinks the world of his grandparents. Especially his Gran, June, probably because they are kindred spirits. Because Jay is a young aspiring writer, whilst June has been a lifelong amateur one; a diarist.

Forebears begins at June's funeral, an emotional rite-of-passage into adulthood for Jay, although it's not his first such sad occasion.

Jay has known about his Gran's journal keeping, although he hasn't read them. Until now. After the wake Granddad Andrew gives Jay the diaries as an inheritance, as his mother, black-sheep-of-the-family Betty would be unlikely to take any interest in them. Jay, on the other hand, is thrilled. That night he settles down with his girlfriend Helen to begin reading. And so the framework of the book is established.

But then another narrative starts too, alternating with selected diary entries: the saga of June's own grandmother, Juniper (all these J-beginning names are explained as the book progresses), who was a governess in 1906 and suffers terrible abuse which has repercussions that echo through the succeeding generations.

In a real sense this story is not escapist; not one of lords and ladies or of the wealthy and glamorous, or of the bosom-heaving romantic, but of Everyman. Well, Woman really. Most of the main characters in this rich and intricate novel are the members of the female line of Jay's family. Forebears spans the 106 years from 1906 to 2012 and is told predominantly from a woman's perspective. It's a testament to women who are often quietly heroic; who just get on with things, because that's what women do.

The book is a tapestry of many interwoven lives; multiple stories of love, life, death, war, peace, happiness, sorrow. At the very end there's a surprise unveiling of the identity of the narrator.

Forebears may make you laugh and may in places make you cry. Hopefully it will make you empathise.

It's a plea for writing your family history down.


• 'This is a wonderful story to read again and again.' — Gwendlyn Kallie, reviewer

• ' ... written with such clarity, with such sincerity, with such an understanding of the human psyche.' — Marilyn Z. Tomlins, author

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