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1923: A Memoir: Lies and Testaments [Paperback]

Harry Leslie Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

November 2010
To say that Harry Smith was born under an unlucky star would be an understatement. Born in England in 1923, Smith chronicles the tragic story of his early life in this first volume of his memoirs. He presents his family’s early history—their misfortunes and their experiences of enduring betrayal, inhumane poverty, infidelity, and abandonment.

1923: A Memoir presents the story of a life lyrically described, capturing a time both before and during World War II when personal survival was dependent upon luck and guile. During this time, failure insured either a trip to the workhouse or burial in a common grave. Brutally honest, Smith’s story plummets to the depths of tragedy and flies up to the summit of mirth and wonder, portraying real people in an uncompromising, unflinching voice.

1923: A Memoir tells of a time and place when life, full of raw emotion, was never so real.


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About the Author

Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression, a second world war RAF veteran and, at 90, an activist for the poor and for the preservation of social democracy. His Guardian articles have been shared over 60,000 times on Facebook and have attracted huge comment and debate. He has authored numerous books about Britain during the Great Depression, the second world war and postwar austerity. He lives outside Toronto, Canada and in Yorkshire. Harry Leslie Smith books are represented by Greene & Heaton. His latest book "Harry's Last Stand" is published by Icon and available for sale in June 2014 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Read Jan. 22 2011
By ncpulla
Format:Paperback
As a young mother,after reading 1923: A memoir, I think what stuck with me most was how intense poverty and hopelessness will gradually destroys a mother's ability to nurture or protect her children. It is chilling to think that this account of a family ruined by the Great Depression only occurred in the 1920's and 30's. Harry Leslie Smith's portrayal of life in an economically ravage landscape is so compelling it feels current. The characters' in his autobiography are long dead but Harry Leslie Smith makes them come alive and I felt every bit of their pain and their small triumphs.
This is an outstanding book which is both funny and sad. Harry Leslie Smith also does a fantastic job at justly laying the blame for the destruction of his family and millions of other's in 1930's: corporations who placed profits above people and governments who think their constituency is only the super wealthy. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a page turning read which can shock, amuse and enthral us with real people, living real lives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read! March 31 2011
By Kibe83
Format:Hardcover
It is a thoughtful and honest portrait of childhood in Britain in the 1930's; if one comes from the wrong side of the tracks. I was hooked by the very first page because Harry Leslie Smith's easy flowing narrative introduced characters and situations which are haunting, humorous and all too real. I highly recommend this book for anyone that likes a story of adventure, hardship with a dose of humour. It is a great read. I hope this author writes another book about his life because I am now very curious as to how everything turns out for him and his family
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story March 24 2011
By ncpulla
Format:Hardcover
As a young mother,after reading 1923: A memoir, I think what stuck with me most was how intense physical, poverty and hopelessness will gradually destroys a mother's ability to nurture or protect her children. It is chilling to think that this account of a family ruined by the Great Depression only occurred in the 1920's and 30's. Harry Leslie Smith's portrayal of life in an economically ravage landscape is so compelling it feels current. The characters' in his autobiography are long dead but Harry Leslie Smith makes them come alive and I felt every bit of their pain and their small triumphs.
This is an outstanding book which is both funny and sad. Harry Leslie Smith also does a fantastic job at justly laying the blame for the destruction of his family and millions of other's in 1930's: corporations who placed profits above people and governments who think their constituency is only the super wealthy. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a page turning read which can shock, amuse and enthral us with real people, living real lives.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking & Uplifting June 25 2011
Format:Paperback
Having never read a memoir, I wasn't sure what to expect. But from the moment I got involved with loveahappyending.com and selected my authors, I knew I would be a fan of the genre ' at least this particular author's account of his early years.

Just from the brief blurbs on the loveahappyending.com/harry-leslie-smith/ author page, there was a parallel resonance between Harry's life and my father's, although comparing the two, my father's life wasn't nearly so tragic and poverty-stricken. In their later years, they both fought in Europe during WWII.

It must have been extremely painful for Harry to be able to put his childhood on paper for all to see yet cathartic at the same time.

It's hard to imagine the type of childhood Harry experienced in 1920s and 1930s England. In that period, people did what that had to in order to survive, including digging through trash and stealing from others to obtain something to eat. His account of his father's years of working in the mines until he could no longer work below ground to being pensioned off and shamed out of the family home because of the actions of his mother, who only did what she had to in order to ensure their survival (such as it was).

Even Harry's mates and later his RAF comrades had no idea what he had been through as a child, ***spoiler here*** although I suspected it would tumble out when he pulled his rifle on a fellow serviceman. ***end spoiler***. Harry had invented a happy reasonaby normal family life for himself.

Harry is quick to credit his older sister, Mary, for his survival. When she finally leaves home, he's devastated. They remain close but it's not the same.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1923: A Memoir April 3 2011
By Mary Crocco - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
1923: A Memoir by Harry Leslie Smith

The author, Harry Smith, describes his birth as coming into the world with no fanfare, no glad-handing in February 1923. He was born into poverty, abuse, and alcoholism during the Great Depression in England. The matriarch in the family, Lillian, had abandoned Harry's father, Albert, to put food on the table. She fled numerous places called home, and accepted another man only to feed her kids. Lillian was hardly the loving mother; however, Harry did love her as he did his father. But not for Harry's sister, Mary, he never would have survived. She provided the emotional and physical stability for Harry even though she was only three years older.

Harry discovered a library where books offered him much solace in his chaotic life. He read and dreamed of escaping the place he called home. He took a bicycle ride to York and after observing a beautiful medieval cathedral he experienced an epiphany; he would someday escape from King Cross, Halifax, and Yorkshire. There was another world out there and Harry would find it.

Harry did see more of the world, but not always in a good way. He joined the Royal Air Force during WWII. He experienced the horrors of war that every man and woman in the service should never have to experience.

Harry tells his stories of home and war like a good novel. He describes his family and war buddies as if we were family and kin.

There are many books written about WWII and The Great Depression, however written in a memoir creates a different read. If not for the true to life language of Harry's experiences, this story could be on school book shelves for students studying history.

I am hoping for a sequel as the ending leaves the reader intrigued. Glad you survived, Harry, to write this memoir. Hope to read more about you and Elfriede.

Book review by Mary Crocco

[...]
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Jan. 18 2011
By ncpulla - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a young mother,after reading 1923: A memoir, I think what stuck with me most was how intense physical, poverty and hopelessness will gradually destroys a mother's ability to nurture or protect her children. It is chilling to think that this account of a family ruined by the Great Depression only occurred in the 1920's and 30's. Harry Leslie Smith's portrayal of life in an economically ravage landscape is so compelling it feels current. The characters' in his autobiography are long dead but Harry Leslie Smith makes them come alive and I felt every bit of their pain and their small triumphs.
This is an outstanding book which is both funny and sad. Harry Leslie Smith also does a fantastic job at justly laying the blame for the destruction of his family and millions of other's in 1930's: corporations who placed profits above people and governments who think their constituency is only the super wealthy. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a page turning read which can shock, amuse and enthral us with real people, living real lives.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Visiting the Past April 1 2011
By Timothy Campbell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Harry Smith has shared with the reader a very personal and poignant story of a time that we often want to recall as "the good old days." And they aren't always good old days when one considers the reality. Harry is a solid storyteller and will allow you to experience a different time through different eyes. If you're a history buff or you simply like hearing stories about what's important, the people, then you owe it to yourself to read this exceptional book.

Tim Campbell, Author and Publisher
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Protest against Corruption, War, Famine, and Poverty Aug. 18 2011
By Mihir Shah - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
1923: A Memoir, by Harry Leslie Smith, is a lasting memory of his legacy and imprint on the world. While this is a must-read book because it narrates the intriguing early life of the author, it is also fascinating because of its historical backdrop: the Great Depression and World War II. Ultimately, this is a story of true survival. It is about boy turning into a man, one who must conquered life's many peaks and valleys en route to becoming the reservoir of knowledge and experience that Smith is today.

Although this story caters to the age group of 40-80--as they can relate to some of the experiences that Smith depicts--it really is on it way to becoming a timeless classic that conveys the impact of devastating events, such as war and depression, and how a family copes with disaster. Readers will empathize strongly with Smith's endeavors and admire his resolve throughout the struggle.

The story itself begins on an innovative note: an outlining of Smith's lineage and ultimately the controversy and union of his parents, Albert and Lillian Smith. Knowing nothing but poverty, death (of his eldest sister), and an aging father, Harry grew up stealing coal for fuel.

In an age where everything is readily available (e.g., food, home, etc.), it is astounding, heart-breaking, and harrowing to read of a child growing up, in his first seven years of life, witnessing the death of his oldest sister, the physical deterioration of his aging father, and the end of love because there was no time or money for it.

Ultimately, the child, Harry, evolves and runs into a series of unforgettable characters and sequence of events as he weaves through the web of his life. More than anything else, this book describes the tragic themes of hunger, loneliness, and more than anything else, fear.

Instead of cowering and succumbing to a strong sense of foreboding and helplessness, Harry learns essential survival skills and builds himself up from scratch. The quote that resonates most strongly is, "Do you remember a time when we were small, fed, and happy? Do you remember a time, as children, when we weren't scared or lonely? I don't."

In a nutshell, 1923: A Memoir is Harry's protest against social injustice, corruption, war, famine, poverty, and societies blinded by greed. More importantly, it is the story of hope and the notion that anything can be overcome if desired.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pitiless memoir of a personal and social history Aug. 10 2011
By Alina - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
With so much suffering all over the world we Westerners sometimes forget the suffering and starvation that occurred in our backyards among poor white people during the Depression and the World Wars. Harry Leslie Smith presents a completely pitiless memoir of his childhood living hand-to-mouth with an alcoholic mother and a disenfranchised, depressed father.

The struggles of Smith to make sense of, and come to terms with, his ambivalent feelings about his mother and father should be read by anybody who has survived childhood abuse and neglect. He is able to vividly evoke the confused, angry feelings of a child as he experiences the pain his parents inflict on him but also maturely reflect on the pressures under which his parents were trying to survive, both economically and psychologically.

The greatest strength of this book is the complex understanding which Smith brings to bear in recounting how his family's (mis)fortunes fit within the smaller picture of Northern English village life and the larger picture of Britain's political landscape. It is an extraordinary accomplishment - an English version of The Grapes of Wrath. I am unsurprised that it has taken Smith a lifetime to finally construct his memoir. In common with many survivors, however, it is evident that Smith, from a little tacker, had a thirst for knowledge and beauty and an awareness of a possible life other than the hard-scrabble existence that himself and his beloved sister endured.

The memoir ends with Smith recounting his experiences as a signaller in WWII. Compared to many he had "a good war" and he is very aware of that. Smith recounts WWII experiences that are rarely documented - those who stood and waited and ended up going in to do the mopping up.

The memoir ends with Smith meeting the woman who would become his wife. It was disappointing to come to the end of this memoir and I look forward to future memoirs but it was appropriate that Smith devoted a book to fully exploring his childhood experience. Smith teaches us a great deal about survival, self-awareness and compassion and his memoir is an amazing gift to social historians. It is clear that Smith has neither forgiven nor forgotten.

It's unimaginable to me that someone could read this book without being profoundly moved by it. The author also has a blog [...] which I have started to follow.
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