Jenkins, Great Britain's ambassador to the Netherlands, charmingly recalls a summer holiday in 1951 that he spent with his French relatives on a Flanders estate. At age 14, the boy is instantly at home among proper but colorful older family members: ladies widowed, orphaned or left unwed by two world wars, and their few surviving brothers, scarred veterans. Tante Yvonne keeps firm but diplomatic control of the household and farm, and it is she who teaches Jenkins ancestral values rooted in the land. All of Jenkins's French relatives captivate him, but especially matriarchal Yvonne, who never allows her burdens to spoil her joy of life. Jenkins's recreation of his first experiences of a foreign culture lingers long after the book's end. (Apr.)
Jenkins, presently the British ambassador to the Netherlands, recounts his 1951 summer visit with family acquaintances in the Flanders region of France, when memories of both world wars were unpleasantly vivid. The author insists that his hosts, a tribe of elderly gentry generally declining along with their many in-laws and retainers, compelled his affection and awe, but their fascinating qualities will need to be accepted on evidence other than his prose. His characterizations sometimes miss the mark; for instance, the clan's beneficent matriarch comes off as omniscient but conniving. Jenkins possesses a sense of the pastoral, and his portrayal reveals a talent for humor, but on balance this entry into the field of gentleman's memoir (subgenre: coming-of-age tale) lacks the dramatic material--human and circumstantial--to earn it a recommendation.-- Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., Pa.
An English boy, sent to spend a summer on the French estate of a distant acquaintance of his parents, is vouchsafed a variety of secrets concealed by his bucolic surroundings. The 14-year-old narrator doesn't actively seek what troubles this paradise, but is the receptacle for the workings out of the age-old literary theme of trouble in the idyllic garden. The time is five years after liberation, and his hostess, an autocratic octogenarian named Tante Yvonne to whose protection have returned a dozen sisters and in-laws. Their troubles have mellowed, smoothed out in unknown compromises in the distant past. The boy is the confidante for everyone's memories of the German occupation of the estate, not to mention their memories of the boche of 1914-18, which robbed the estate of its menfolk. Determined to preserve the estate after her own death, Yvonne rather shrewdly maneuvers the boy into an attachment for the place, by her benevolence, by imparting to him the secret that his grandfather jilted her--a trauma that failed to turn her into a vengeful Miss Havisham--and by having on hand her niece Madeleine. Rustic calm and Christian self-sacrifice overarch the scenery, making this fictionalized memoir such a Capra-like pleasantry that mush is the message.