Popeye Never Told You

Rodney Hall

Popeye Never Told You
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Popeye Never Told You

Rodney Hall

In this memoir of his childhood in England during the Second World War, author Rodney Hall uses a little boy’s point of view to tell the story of a time that changed the world. A time that not only changed the world, but one that would put into train events that were to shape Rodney’s life. Rodney’s father died when he was six months old, before the War began. His mother, finding herself out of work and responsible for three children, takes a job as a clerk in the Ministry of Food. At night she tells stories of ‘home’, the farm her family once owned at Kangaroo Valley in Australia. For Rodney this fabled place became his hope of escape from the bombing. The imagined Australia of ‘home’, plus the absence of a father in his life, underlie a charmed world in which three childen are free to roam the streets and the surrounding woods while the war rages across Europe. This is a rare and touching memoir. The voice of the young Rodney, the innocence with which he surveys the world and his impressions of what is going on around him, the wonderful character of his mother, her bravery and stoicism, and the many charming and lovely stories - all these combine to make this an extraordinary book that readers will fall in love with.

Review

Rodney Hall, the much-awarded Australian writer (twice winner of the Miles Franklin) who was born in England, has written a memoir that brims with insight and overflows with passion.

Written in first person from the point of view of his five-year-old self, Hall achieves something rare – a whole new way of looking, seeing, feeling rural England during World War II. The cheeky, inquisitive, sensitive boy leaps off every page as he navigates the world of rations, siblings, missing fathers, the often-looming Luftwaffe and the lucid dream of Australia.

The innocence, misunderstandings and clarity of a child’s perspective bring the story, of 1940 through to 1945 and the war’s end, to life with vitality and delight. The nuance and cadence of the young Rodney is a real literary achievement and shifts the ground considerably in the approach to memoir. I highly recommend it.

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