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Memoirs from away: a new found land girlhood.

MEMOIRS FROM AWAY: A New Found Land Girlhood Life Writing Series / 6

Helen M. Buss/Margaret Clarke

Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1999; 153 pp.

In the foreword to this book, the author indicates that when she began to write, she decided to use her middle and maiden names, "Margaret Clarke," rather than her first and married names, "Helen Buss." She felt that she was "reaching for some other identity, one lost or not yet found." This "identity association" could in fact be the mantra for the entire text.

Memoirs from Away: A New Found Land Girlhood is lovingly written. With my background in folklore and journalism, I would describe this book as "life history," rather than "life writing" as the publisher calls the series. Buss/Clarke has provided an intricate first person narrative of both her life as she and her many informants (friends, immediate family, and relatives) have remembered it. Serendipitously, she has included intriguing snippets -- through anecdote and dialogue -- about St. John's, Newfoundland in the 1950s, an apt and engaging topic for writers both living in Newfoundland and those living "away" in the 1990s.

What makes Buss/Clarke's work stand out is her innate attention to detail. Not only does she describe personal family history within the political and historical context of her former home, she provides intimate and physical glimpses into her sometimes painful past, which in every sense paved her future. Interwoven throughout the text is the author's personal grappling with past, present, and future power struggles between women (like the ones between her and her mother), between men and women (her father, brothers, and male neighbours), and those struggles dictated by society, especially considering the homogeneous nature of Newfoundland's educational and religious institutions.

At the heart of the book, six chapters dictate the tone of Buss/Clarke's memoir. Most revealing are the chapters entitled "War: Mother's Child" and "Peace: Daddy's Girl." And educators, especially those interested in the history of education in Newfoundland, will delve again and again into the author's final chapters. The quotations taken directly from history and science textbooks of the 1950s in Newfoundland's elementary school curriculum are fascinating and Buss/Clarke explores how such conservative texts shaped and influenced her perception of herself as a child and as a woman in a world dominated by men and the work of men.

Memoirs from Away: A New Found Land Girlhood is more than just a memoir. It reads like a novel, and it engages readers to think beyond the author's life and to think of their own. Here is one woman's quest for truth -- for herself, for women, for womanhood. Perhaps Helen Buss/Margaret Clarke's Memoirs from Away will influence others to delve deeper and welcome such a journey for truth.
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Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Resources for Feminist Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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