Review Blog

Nov 22 2010

A secret gift by Ted Gup

cover image

Sub-title: How one man's kindness - and a trove of letters - revealed the hidden history of the Great Depression
Random House Australia, 2010. ISBN 9781741669442.
(Age 14+) On 18th December 1933, an advertisement appeared in the local paper of a small town in Ohio. It offered gifts of money for Christmas to 'men or families' in exchange for information about the difficulties they were facing. The advertisement was signed 'B. Virdot', a name unknown in the community. The letters poured in. They documented the bitter harvest of the Depression - unemployment, hunger, illness and separation.
Seventy-five years later, reporter Ted Gup found the letters in a suitcase in his mother's attic. The mysterious philanthropist was his grandfather. The seasoned journalist realised that he had discovered a window into the lives of those who suffered the greatest financial collapse of the twentieth century. He was also prompted to find out more about his grandfather and why he had been moved to help his community.
Although this book reveals life in small town America in the 1930s, it tells a universal tale about migration, hard work and the desperation of people who are thrown into poverty through no fault of their own. The author reflects on relationships, family secrets and the emotional, physical and social toll of chronic unemployment. He also sees parallels between the Great Depression and the recent Global Financial Crisis. A collection of black and white photographs includes 'then and now' portraits of some of the town's inhabitants.
By researching the personal circumstances of each letter writer and interspersing his findings with discoveries about his own family, Ted Gup has written a gentle but thought-provoking book. Although many younger readers might find the material fascinating and inspiring, the author has written his account for an adult audience. His clear, concise writing is the work of a consummate journalist accustomed to communicating with readers of the Washington Post and the New York Times.
A secret gift is a story which will reward anyone interested in the courage of so-called 'ordinary' people in times of hardship.
Elizabeth Bor

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