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.