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Book Notes: Spring Remembered, Evelyn Cowan

Bernice F. Gould

<plain_text><page sequence="1">SCOTTISH CHILDHOOD Spring Remembered, by Evelyn Cowan. Southside (Publishers) (1974). Edinburgh. Pp. 160. ?2.95 (?1.75 paper). Sub-titled 'a Scottish Jewish childhood', this book transports the reader back to life in the Jewish ghetto of the Gorbals, to the contrasting village life of Rothesay amidst the beauty of the Scottish island scenery, and finally to the respectable Glasgow suburb of Shawlands. The story is told with the sympathetic and nostalgic observations of the author as an eight-year-old girl, with simplicity of thought expressed in a mixture of Yiddish and the colourful local dialect. However, much of the nuance of expression and atmosphere must be lost for any reader who is handicapped by being neither Scottish nor Jewish. Evelyn is the youngest of a family of 11, born just before the death of her father. Her life is described with a charm, vividness, and humour which virtually obliterates the reality of the harshness of the grinding poverty of life for her family and neighbours. The nuances of the social strata?those with or without bath? rooms; the woman who scraped up enough money for her son to train as a doctor but decided that he would have to be a barber, as</page><page sequence="2">222 Book Notes this was the highest level she considered that the neighbours would accept?are described for us and the reasoning behind them explained. The upholding of the traditional Jewish way of life with its religious obligations is lovingly described, as are the occasional temptations to rebel, as in the episode of the guiltily consumed piece of buttered bread dur? ing Passover. The life of immigrants from Eastern Europe in this alien setting, their adaptation to and gradual improvement of their circumstances until they leave the 'ghetto' of the original Jewish settlement in the Gorbals and move to the suburbs, is one which may be true every? where that Jews have settled in this country. However, the combination of Scottish and Yiddish dialects and customs is unique in its effect on those who encounter it for the first time. A very popular local event, sailing down the Clyde on the old steamer, is given added colour by the scene of the whole Cowan family trudging on foot from their home, through the Gorbals and across the bridge over the River Clyde to the wharf. First was Ma with her bags from which 'protruded round loaves of sweet and sour bread, cucumbers, herrings', followed by a long line of children carrying, in addition to all normal holiday necessities, all their pots and pans to take the place of the non-kosher counterparts at the holiday home in Rothesay. Their unusual number of trunks was further increased by those necessary to 'carry stocks of drapery to sell to the unsus? pecting islanders'. This is an example of the initiative born of necessity. The credit drapery business, started by some of the older sisters in the satellite towns of Glasgow, had become saturated by their coreligionists, necessitating the opening of markets further afield. Much information on the patterns and methods of trading and building up businesses can be gleaned from this story. Schnorrers, match? making, weddings, barmitzvahs, synagogue attendance (with sweets for the children after every Sabbath service), celebration of the festivals and fasts, Friday nights, Sabbaths, all are described with such clearness and love which conjure up a vivid picture. This book may be an account of a short period of her childhood by one member of a family, but together with the snatches tantal isingly offered of the various experiences and future developments in the lives of her brothers and sisters, it illustrates the life pattern of a whole generation in the process of change from the poor, uneducated Eastern European immigrant to the new middle-class Scottish suburbanite. Bernige F. Gould</page></plain_text>

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