Alfred & Emily
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Alfred & Emily

3.15 of 5 stars 3.15  ·  rating details  ·  597 ratings  ·  137 reviews
I think my father's rage at the trenches took me over, when I was very young, and has never left me. Do children feel their parents' emotions? Yes, we do, and it is a legacy I could have done without. What is the use of it? It is as if that old war is in my own memory, my own consciousness.

In this extraordinary book, the 2007 Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing explores the lives...more
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published August 5th 2008 by Harper (first published January 1st 2008)
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Lara
What a strange read!

I must admit that I was a little intimidated to read it. Let's face it: the whole Author Was A 2007 Nobel Laureate thing is a bit overwhelming for a girl whose last couple reads were a YA novel and a poorly written mystery. For the first half, at least, though, the book is downright delightful. I loved it - I was ready to go out and read everything Doris Lessing has ever written. Then, abruptly, the beautiful fiction ends and some seemingly random nonfiction begins. The book...more
Sarah
8/4 - I don't really know which shelf to put this on genre-wise. It's almost historical fiction, but it's not because almost none of it actually happened, it's Lessing's idea of how her parent's lives might have gone if WWI never happened (I liked the inclusion of the political landscape after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand didn't happen). So if it's a fantasy life for Alfred and Emily does that mean it goes on the fantasy shelf? Well, that's not really right either, because then it wou...more
Lizzie
I've put off reviewing this one a bit, because I'm not entirely sure what to say. This book was really, really important to me — but this book is wacko, and probably you should read everybody else's reviews of it instead.

It makes very little sense, I will say that much. Objectively, it's a weird read and really fragmented and even inside each of the fragments there is tons of narrative hopping around like it's normal. Doris Lessing won a Nobel Prize ("Oh, Christ"), wrote this book not long after...more
Will
What a strange book. It's in two parts: the first novella is based on what she thinks her parents’ life might have been had things been different at the start; it is lightweight and formulaic yet plodding and leaden. They did this. Then they did that. It doesn't seem that Lessing could write anything that trite. Yet her parents' actual biography that follows is totally different – a sensitive and insightful account of two people who were completely unprepared and unsuited for Rhodesian farm life...more
Luke Johnson
An interesting concept -- part memoir, part fiction, telling the story of her parents both as they were and how they might have been had World War I not happened. The end product is a little disappointing though: Not a very compelling novel and a memoir that, while interesting, doesn't delve deep enough.

I thought there might be more exploration of the gravity of history and fate and how our lives are shaped by forces beyond our control. Echoes of this, perhaps, but not enough to sustain my inter...more
Bobbi
This was a very odd book. The first part tells the story of how Doris Lessing's lives could have been if WWI hadn't happened. Not very interesting. The second half of the books tells the true story of her parents; her father lost a leg in the war, they lived in Persia and Rhodesia and eventually moved back to England. A lot more interesting than the first story, but as a whole the book was very disappointing.
Callie
Imagine you go visit your grandmother who happens to have lived an extraordinarily rich life and is possessed of a brilliant mind and she starts free associating, talking to you about some of her earliest memories, making observations about history, war, literature and a variety of topics, that's what you get in the second half of this book. Which half I preferred. First half is a story of what might have been, the story of Lessing's parents if they hadn't had their lives shattered by WWI. I tho...more
Zanna
It's all about Emily though. Emily is the mystery Lessing wrestles with, turns over and over like a seashell, without finally solving.

The first half, the imagined biography of her parents as if the war never came, is at times as strange and subtly sinister as the speculative, dystopian Memoirs of a Survivor, varying its tone unobtrusively from the stilted distance of real biography to the intimacy of loving concern, to the gossipy energy of anecdote. Unromanticised, yet edifying pictures are dra...more
Odai Alsaeed
شعور رتيب طوال الوقت وبطء الأحداث يحث على البلادة في قراءة النص ....لست آبها من تكون دوريس وجوائزها وكأنها اختارت حواشي الهوامش من قصصها لتؤلف هذا الكتابالذي لم يمتعني أو يضف لي فائدة تذكر...أقل من عادي
Sarah Beth
This book has such an interesting premise - the first half is a fictional novella where Lessing imagines the lives her parents would have lived had WWI not set them on a very different path. In the second half of the book, Lessing writes a memoir that delves into the reality of her parents' largely unhappy lives, destroyed by the Great War.

While I was intrigued by the creative premise of this book, I was frustrated by the stilted and distanced feel to the narrative in the novella section. The o...more
Rachelfm
It's an appealing exercise...imagining away the events that led your parents to completely screw up your life. I had read the context for this book some time ago...essentially the author won her Nobel Prize in part on the eloquent vitriol which is essentially the most durable legacy from her mother. Both of Doris Lessing's parents were irreparably damaged by WWI; trying to settle a farm in Africa didn't ameliorate their pain. WWI looms so large over Lessing's childhood that in her eighties, she...more
Lizie
This is strange book of two halves.

The later half is biographical, describing her parents' lives, especially those years they spent farming, unsuccessfully, in Rhodesia. The trauma her father suffered in WWI colours life and family relationships, whilst Doris' mother is portrayed as a frustrated creative woman. This section of the book is reasonably interesting, but not brilliant.

In contrast, the first half of the book is boring and dry. Doris proposes fictitious alternative lives for her pare...more
Leon

Is it a novel, that is, fiction? Is it non-fiction, a twin biography of her parents? In fact Alfred & Emily is both. It is kept in the fiction shelves, among other true works of that genre, in the National Library (KL); the librarians presume it to be this. The first half of the book reads just like fiction. It tells the story of one Alfred and another of Emily. Unlike in real life, when they were Lessing’s parents, these two met at a cricket match, but later married other people instead. At...more
Mara
Bello, incisivo ed originale, come tutti i libri di Doris Lessing.
E’un romanzo sulla vita dei suoi genitori, composto da due parti distinte : nella prima l'autrice racconta una delle loro possibili vite se la prima guerra mondiale non li avesse colpiti. Una sliding doors letteraria: cosa sarebbe successo se avessero vissuto vite autonome e senza l’ esperienza della guerra? Che persone sarebbero diventate? La seconda parte, invece, narra la reale storia dei due protagonisti.
E’ molto interessan...more
Linda
I gave this book a strong four, because of the entire concept. In the first half of the book the author sets up a story of two people whose paths cross as children and whose lives continue to cross throughout adulthood, but each in their own separate realm. Each person has the early background, the persona of the author's own parents. In the second half of the book the life story of Doris Lessing’s parents is actually revealed; and how differently their lives have played out, in Lessing’s feelin...more
Khlood
دوريس ليسينج الحائزة على جائزة نوبل للآداب 2007 تحكي في هذه الرواية سيرتها الذاتية في إطار العائلة الأب ألفريد والأم إيميلي والأخ هاري، الجزء الأول من الكتاب أعتقد أن دوريس كتبت فيه حول حياة أخرى خيالية تتمنى لو عاشها والداها لو لم تندلع الحرب آنذاك، والجزء الثاني كان ماحدث في الواقع في إحدى مزارع مستعمرة روديسيا"زيمبابوي حاليًا" بعد أن انتقلا إليها من كرمنشاه في بلاد فارس.
كتبت عن والدها ألفريد الفلاح الإنجليزي والجندي بالساق الخشبية بعد أن فقد ساقه خلال الحرب العالمية، وهذا ما أضفى طابع أدب الح...more
Faith Justice
"That war, the Great War, the war that would end all war, squatted over my childhood. The trenches ere as present to me as anything I actually saw around me. And here I still am, trying to get our from under the monstrous legacy, trying to get free.

"If I could meet Alfred Tayler and Emily McVeagh now, as I have written them, as they might have been had the Great War not happened, I hope they would approve the lives I have given them. -- Doris Lessing from Alfred and Emily

This was a very strange...more
Shonna Froebel
This is a fascinating book on Lessing's parents, Alfred Taylor and Emily McVeagh. The first part of the book is a fictional life of the two, where Lessing gives them different happier, yet not perfect lives. This is followed by an explanation where she explains what influenced her choices for the fictional lives. The last part consists of a number of chapters discussing Alfred and Emily's real lives and Doris' experience of them.
Alfred had wanted to be a farmer, but lost a leg in the first World...more
Jo at Jaffareadstoo
In this 2008 memoir Doris Lessing has combined the narrative into two novellas. The first half of the story opens in 1902, and is a fictional reimagining of the lives of her mother and father, Alfred Tayler and Emily McVeagh. This story is told from the point of view that these two people did not marry each other and thus pursued a totally imagined life, one in which the 1914-18 war did not take place. The second half of the narrative gives the reader the truthful account, and describes the life...more
Tamsen
I picked this book up on a whim, and I'm sorry I did. I thought that the premise sounded interesting - Lessing imagines, for the first half of the book, a life without WWI for her parents. A life where they never married and never had children. The second half details what their lives really were like, with WWI included. See? Sounds interesting. Bonus: Lessing won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature the year before this book was published.

Yeah, not so much. This book drags, as if a few pages in...more
Sandi Hutcheson
Lessing, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, combines fiction and memoir in this book as she examines the effects of World War I on her parents. The first half of the book is a novella that imagines the life her parents might have had if World War I had never happened. The second half is a memoir outlining the damage the war inflicted on each of her parents and, by extension, her. Her father lost a leg in the war and suffered what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Her moth...more
Lizzie
A combination novella/memoir, the first half about what her parents' lives would have been like if not for World War I, the second, the reality. Like everyone else who lived through that time, their lives were pretty well ruined by the war.

I liked the novella - she didn't give them perfect lives, but real ones that included regret and ambiguity. The memoir section was interesting too, about their life on a farm in Rhodesia. Her mother imagined it would be like Happy Valley in Kenya, and it wasn'...more
Bookmarks Magazine

In Alfred & Emily, groundbreaking author Doris Lessing returns to the subject matter explored in her 1994 autobiography, Under My Skin. Fans will recognize common themes and details, but Lessing's outlook and tone have softened. Critics were touched by her genuine attempt to understand her overbearing, self-absorbed mother, though her writing is still tinged with resentment. Lessing's fictional novella is no fairy tale, but most critics found it unconvincing. Why invent a fictional life if i

...more
Dottie
And dimly she realised one of the great laws of the human soul: that when the emotional soul receives a wounding shock, which does not kill the body, the soul seems to recover as the body recovers. But this is only appearance. It is, really, only the mechanism of reassumed habit. Slowly, slowly the wound to the soul begins to make itself felt, like a bruise which only slowly deepens its terrible ache, till it fills all the psyche. And when we think we have recovered and forgotten, it is then tha...more
Kathy
I loved Lessing's incredible novel "The Golden Notebook" and have been wanting to read more from this prolific author. I loved the concept for this novel: Lessing recreates her parents' lives as if World War I hadn't happened, and therefore they each lived somewhat happier lives, fulfilling their dreams. (In reality, her father was badly wounded in the war, it left him with many psychological scars and he developed diabetes later in life - her mother had to be his nurse all of her life.) In exec...more
Megan
I think I like the idea of this book slightly better than I enjoyed reading it, but it was worth it to be confronted by the idea. Lessing takes the lives of her two parents, Alfred and Emily, and reinvents them--writes their stories as if they were unaffected by World War I. Her father, in actuality, lived with deep psychological trauma and a wooden leg because of his time in the trenches and her mother lost her great love and instead led a life as a mother that didn't allow her become the woman...more
Jill
This is a strange book; part a memoir of her parents lives based mainly on her own memories and part an alternative view of what their lives may have been like if WW I had not occurred. The is book is fragmented and neither section is completely successful, although you do end up with an immense sympathy for both parents and their suffering, and a greater understanding of how their issues affected the younger Doris.
shaihanah
لمن يحب أدب الحرب .
دوريس تكتب عن والديها "ألفريد وإميلي "
هدا الكتاب ليس سيرة فقط ..
بل شيء من أدب الحرب ..
"في الحرب العالمية كانت تعمل "إميلي "ممرضة ..و"ألفريد"في الجيش
في الفصول الاولى تسرد دوريس طفولة كل من ألفريد وإميلي ..ثم اللقاء في الحرب ..
****
محزن ...! جميل ..!.شعور غريب ..!
أن يكتب الإنسان سيرة حياته بعد 90عام ...لا ليس فقط سيرته بل سيرة والديه ..
دوريس التي كانت تكره أمها "إميلي " رغم أنها كانت هي أكثر من يقدم لها الكتب ...
تعلن دوريس ندمها على ذلك ..
إميلي التي كانت في صباها عنيدة لأمها ....more
Tessa
This was an extraordinary book starting with how she imagined her parents could have been if they were not involved in the First World War. She mainly concentrated on her mother Emily a woman of many talents. The second part was biographical but seemed to have little structure just really a memoir of her life and more about her parents and how they really lived in a farm in Rhodesia.
Rebecca
Both of Doris Lessing's parents were seriously damaged by the Great War and Lessing wrote this "novel" to imagine what their lives might have been like if the war had never happened. What I liked about this book was that these invented lives were not ideal or perfect, but full of all the regular ups and down of which any life is composed. Alfred and Emily are still constrained by the social forces of their time, but do not suffer the wrenching dislocations and, in her father's case, actual disfi...more
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7728
Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as Oliv...more
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