A poignant and bittersweet memoir from the distinguished British fiction writer Penelope Lively, "Oleander, Jacaranda" evokes the author' s unusual childhood growing up English in Egypt during the 1930s and 1940s. Filled with the birds, animals and planets of the Nile landscape that the author knew as a child, "Oleander, Jacaranda" follows the young Penelope from a visit to a "fellaheen" village to an afternoon at the elegant Gezira Sporting Club, one milieu as exotic to her as the other. Lively' s memoir offers us the rare opportunity to accompany a gifted writer on a journey of exploration into the mysterious world of her own childhood.
An intriguing combination of memoir and reflection on memory. Growing up English in Egypt in the late 1930's and early 1940's (she returned to live in England in 1945), Lively's memories offer something out of the ordinary (in my reading, anyway) thanks to their historical and social aspects, but I'm sure she could make even an ordinary suburban childhood interesting. The questions of how clearly we remember things from our childhoods, why we remember certain things, how those memories get jumbled and mixed, how later knowledge and events may affect memories, and so on are intertwined with her stories, which are placed in context with modest amounts of historical background. The book offers an engaging invitation to readers to sift through the fragments of their own childhood memories and ponder how pieces fit together, how “factual” various memories might be, and how their adult selves see places, people, and events differently (or not) from the way they remember perceiving those things in childhood. An enjoyable, thought provoking little book.
Although Penelope Lively may have many beautiful memories of Cairo and Egypt, the memoir consists of a mix of impressions, through the lens of the mature author. These memoirs are based on actual memories, and memories induced through photos, and a visit to Cairo. These three views are all mingled, and present the memoir with a great deal of nostalgia. All familiar sights find a place, although some are introduced very late, so that "Groppi" isn't mentioned until page 80, or so.
Naturally, the home, with the garden and a small pond are all lively in the author's memory, although she wonders how memory plays games, as the size of the pond is incorrectly remembered, probably because to a small child the pond appeared bigger. This distortion works through at various levels. Moreover, the reality of the present day is different from that forty years ago. Then, the children could swim in the harbour of Alexandria, as the water was clean.
Oleander, Jacaranda. A childhood perceived is a wonderful memoir for readers who get a fuzzy feeling of nostalgia about British imperial past. The memoir breathes the air of nostalgia, and celebrates the expat / colonial lifestyle, with its white superiority over the local population.