When All the World Was Young: A Memoir

When All the World Was Young: A Memoir

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by Barbara Holland
     
 

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Acclaimed writer Barbara Holland, whom the Philadelphia Inquirer has called "a national treasure," finally tells her own story with this atmospheric account of a postwar American childhood. When All the World Was Young is Holland's account of growing up in Washington, D.C., during the 1940s and '50s, and is a deliciously subversive, sensitive journey into her

Overview

Acclaimed writer Barbara Holland, whom the Philadelphia Inquirer has called "a national treasure," finally tells her own story with this atmospheric account of a postwar American childhood. When All the World Was Young is Holland's account of growing up in Washington, D.C., during the 1940s and '50s, and is a deliciously subversive, sensitive journey into her past.
Mixing tales of an autocratic stepfather, a brilliant, reclusive mother, and a houseful of siblings with jump-rope rhymes and dangerous sled runs, teachers both wise and weird, and a child's-eye view of war, Holland gives readers a unique and sharp-eyed look at history and the world of childhood as it used to be.

Editorial Reviews

Jonathan yardley
For all that, and for all the shortcomings and eccentricities of her own family, Holland had good times, and interesting ones, and she learned from them. You have to be on the alert to catch the moral of her tale, but it's right there in a couple of sentences about three-quarters of the way through: "Growing up is the process of learning how many things you can't do and how many people you can't be. When you've winnowed them out, what's left is you." That's what we used to call a home truth, but then so is everything else in this splendid book.
— The Washington Post
Jonathan Yardley
For all that, and for all the shortcomings and eccentricities of her own family, Holland had good times, and interesting ones, and she learned from them. You have to be on the alert to catch the moral of her tale, but it's right there in a couple of sentences about three-quarters of the way through: "Growing up is the process of learning how many things you can't do and how many people you can't be. When you've winnowed them out, what's left is you." That's what we used to call a home truth, but then so is everything else in this splendid book.
— The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
Essayist and incidental feminist Holland (They Went Whistling, 2001, etc.) turns septuagenarian and, perforce, autobiographical, recounting the story of her first 18 years. Caught by the pigtails, Holland's childhood history recalls the nation's capital during WWII, when kids were on the alert for Luftwaffe intruders and Nazi spies. It was a time when children had little more than one another for entertainment. Cuisine was standard American white bread. School was an enemy camp, and grownups were a mystery for young Barbara. Mom went barefoot and kept her nose in a book, Grandmother was a Socialist and adept at poker, and siblings were mostly an annoyance. Occupying Dad's chair was a cold, even terrifying, stepfather. Our author displayed a preternatural attentiveness to her surroundings (as she still does). The knack of reading came to her fully formed, like an epiphany, and so did the writer's calling. With her considerable analysis, Holland covers every variety of experience from mid-century-her discovery of books, adventurous dreams, powerful hopes and fears, dimwitted teachers, race, war, cursive handwriting, radio and-especially-the inviolable rules of belonging to one's own gender. Boys ruled. "It was unseemly for a woman of any age to sit on leather," we learn, "and almost indecent for a girl." Beyond simple elegiac recollection, Holland's memoir includes much awareness of rigidly assigned gender-based roles. Eventually, though, this little touch of Grover's Corners in the night passes. The spirit of Holland's youth fades away and a solemn, pensive childhood crashes down as this smart coming-of-age text comes to an end. It's all credible and persuasive, for, as Holland notes,"gelatinous" memory, once written down, "turns to stone, right or wrong, a fact." With not much about sex but a lot about gender, here's an acute narrative of how the clever Holland came to be so writerly.
New York Times Book Review
"Beautifully written…sharply detailed recollections…compelling, both touching and funny…Holland writes with breezy elegance and a sly wit."

Washington Post Book World
"Wise, funny, haunting and thoroughly grown-up…Holland…has a keen memory of the conventions and customs of that time, and she brings them back to life with clarity and affection …She seems to be able to write knowledgeably about almost anything she pleases…[A] splendid book."

New York Times
"Ms. Holland, a shrewd, witty writer, casts a sharp backward glance at America the day before yesterday, when fathers ruled with an iron fist, children memorized lots of poetry and a girl could take pride knowing that her hometown would be bombed first when the Russians let fly with the H-bomb."

Chicago Tribune
"Imagine Lauren Bacall narrating Tristram Shandy and you get a sense of Holland's When All the World Was Young…One perfect eyebrow cocked, Holland looks back at the war years through the lens of our own times and dispatches past and present with a delicious, wry clarity."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596918078
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
12/01/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,055,132
File size:
649 KB

Meet the Author

Barbara Holland is the author of fourteen previous books, most recently Gentlemen's Blood, and has written for Smithsonian, Glamour, Playboy, the Utne Reader, Redbook, Seventeen, and the Washington Post, among many others. She passed away in 2010.

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When All the World Was Young: A Memoir 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A simply magical book - very forthcoming. I live not so far from her so a lot of what she speaks of, I know. I grew up in the area and the time she writes of in this book. It is so evocative of that era. Barbara Holland is a simply wonderful writer.
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