Eva Figes The Economist - Essay

The Economist

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[For Eva Figes, author of Little Eden: A Child at War], the garden of Eden was Cirencester in 1940 where, after escaping first from Berlin and then from the London bombs, she spent an idyllic year at a boarding school run by two eccentric spinster sisters. These enthusiastic and industrious ladies awakened in her an absorbed and eclectic interest in her surroundings and a nascent desire to be a writer. Her book is essentially a tribute to them.

Her own rather hazy memories of the period include the moment when her best friend told her that she could not pray because she was a Jew, the full implications of which she only grasped later, on being sent to see a newsreel film of Belsen. From back numbers of the local paper she pieces together a picture of wartime Cirencester very far removed from those horrors….

Ms Figes provides in addition fascinating glimpses of the history of Cirencester, for centuries a rotten borough…. She deplores the paternalistic hauteur of the local gentry as much as she despairs of the latter-day development of the town, but the picture she paints of it is nevertheless redolent of the magical, silent-movie memories of childhood in a place where her mother's continental method was enough to startle the knitting circle, and where, for a time, she could be unashamedly happy.

"Paradise Renamed," in The Economist, Vol. 267, No. 7033, June 17, 1978, p. 132.