Review Blog

Feb 21 2018

Jack's daughter: Growing up German in World War 11 Broken Hill by Christine Ellis

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Wakefield Press, 2017. ISBN 9781743055090
Recommended for mature readers of historical biography. Christine Ellis writes a loving biography of her mother's life.
Maisie Schuster's father Jack died at the age of 54 years when she was ten years old. His illness from pneumoconiosis (caused by dust from mining) not only robbed him of his own life but also assigned Maisie to a life of hardship and pain which she would not have endured had he been present to protect and guide her through adolescence.
Maisie and Jack had enjoyed an especially close and loving relationship and the girl's life became miserable and unduly harsh as she coped with a hard, sometimes brutal mother who appears to have transferred her own suffering to the daughter. Circumstances were made worse by the depressed economy and high unemployment in their city of Broken Hill. The fact that Jack was German and World War 2 had begun a year previously also meant that the family suffered from suspicion, bullying and bureaucratic discrimination.
Given that the nation was at war, fear of enemy infiltrators is on some level understandable, except when applied to families who had been residents and model citizens for decades. Some aspects of the security measures were breathtakingly stupid and unfair.
Life was incredibly tough for everyone at the time and for Maisie's family living on the late Jack's compensation payments, frugal attention to the spending of every penny resulted in them living in what we would now recognise as desperate poverty. At the time however it was simply accepted as hard times, with an observation that the situation for others was worse.
Christine Ellis rejoices in her mother's resilience, resourcefulness and kindness to others. Whilst I completely understand her pride, I felt a great sense of sadness that this woman was perpetually dragged down by others when she showed so much promise in her achievements. Denied education by her mother, this academically gifted achiever who yearned for a nursing career was instead pulled out of school for domestic work at home, caring for her mother and brothers. Refusing to give up, she set up her own hairdressing operation and earned managerial positions in business, only to have to leave to care for her manipulative and controlling mother who subjected her to physical and emotional abuse, including savage beatings.
Sadly, it would appear that this treatment conditioned Maisie to perpetually relegate her own needs and wishes to those of her family members and later an abusive husband. At times it seems that Maisie's pain and misery will never end, yet I'm pleased to say that hope and fulfilment are also present in this account.
Whilst heartbreaking in parts, Christine Ellis emphasises all that was good in her mother's adventures and gives an affirming tribute to her mother.
Rob Welsh

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