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The White Bird Passes

3.46  ·  Rating Details ·  69 Ratings  ·  11 Reviews
Set in the backstreets of Elgin in the 1920's, this is the story of a young girl growing up in 'the Lane.' Poor, crowded and dirty - but full of life and excitement - the Lane is the only home Janie MacVean has ever known. It is a place where, despite everything, Janie is happy. But when the Cruelty Man arrives, bringing with him the threat of the dreaded 'home' - the ...more
Paperback, 153 pages
Published December 1st 1996 by Black & White Publishing (first published 1958)
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Sep 13, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: autobiography
One of the best evocations of childhood I have ever read. It is autobiographical, heartbreaking and why, oh why haven’t I heard of or read Jessie Kesson before? Her biography; well, born in 1916 Jessie Kesson was Scottish and born in Inverness in the workhouse. She never knew her father and was brought up in by her beloved mother. Her early childhood was spent avoiding the rent man and the Cruelty Inspector (who had the power to remove children to the orphanage if they were being neglected).
Jun 24, 2012 Rowenah rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book of life in northern Scotland (Elgin) in the, well it doesn't say but I imagine sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. Very unflinching and actually kind of shocking to read the descriptions of a prostitute's lane and the rough life, complete with women swearing and leathering each other until blood spilt, all from a child's point of view, especially considering this was written in 1958. The child is Janie, who talks about her life in the lane with her mother from an 8 year ...more
This edition has an eight page introduction to this book. The book is way too short. Although in the short telling of this very large tale, you meet a lovely strong girl with such exuberance for life in-spite of her very hard life. Beautiful clear descriptions of the slums she called home and the people who were her neighbors. At 8 years old she is removed from her mother's care and sent to an orphanage where she lives until she is 16. Her grandparents are middle class people with a nice home ...more
Nov 07, 2014 Jim rated it liked it
The writing brought vividness to the scenes in the Lane and the Orphanage, indeed throughout. It tells the story of a young girl in a life of unnecessary deprivation at risk of being whisked away from her mother by the authorities and placed in a Home. I imagine it would be quite shocking in 1958 when it was written. This autobiographical novel grants a description of a wonderful young individual whose future is restricted by her position in society rather than by her talents and good character. ...more
Matthew Cole
Apr 04, 2012 Matthew Cole rated it liked it
I'm probably predisposed to liking this - she went to the same primary school as I did. But I did like it, she created very vivid images and characters. The narrative voice was confusing at times though.
Jan 15, 2015 Lesley rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Another book group read, a good one for that post-Christmas lethargy. The author paints a vivid picture of her childhood home and amazingly, the orphanage is still standing, not too many miles from where I live. She hurries over her time in the orphanage, which in reality was half of her young life by the time she left it at 16.

Having re-read a Tree Grows in Brooklyn last year, it's interesting to note the similarities of those living in poverty and the same bonds that support them and keep the
May 18, 2016 Sian rated it it was amazing
I can understand why this author is championed by other giants such as Ali Smith and Robert McFarlane. I grew up around Elgin and Aberdeenshire, and although this social class and time period was something unfamiliar to my childhood, the language is lovingly familiar, as is the affection with which she treats the local characters. The passage in which Janie defends her mother to God was indescribably beautiful and almost had me in tears.
Jan 29, 2014 Morgan rated it really liked it
I like the simplicity of story which was entwined with lots of detail and edge. The protagonist's future seemed hopeful but still there was an uncertainty of situations both past and present - what will happen to her mother? the wealth and prestige of her grandparents is unexplained?

An easy read but also easy to miss detail and intimacy which explains more of the character's life.
J.U. Flint
Jan 12, 2014 J.U. Flint rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. It is well-written, and almost poetic in places. The story is sad and I found it quite moving. I think that its poignancy is increased due to the fact it is autobiographical.
Peter rated it really liked it
Sep 27, 2016
Sep 11, 2012 Kenneth rated it did not like it
I didn't like it.
Ailsa rated it it was amazing
Dec 07, 2015
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Nov 22, 2012
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Claire Nicol rated it it was ok
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500 Great Books B...: The White Bird Passes - Jessie Kesson - Paul 1 8 Sep 14, 2014 02:40PM  
Read Scotland 2014: Jessie Kesson, Scottish writer 1 7 Dec 26, 2013 04:53PM  
Jessie Kesson, born Jessie Grant McDonald, was a Scottish novelist, playwright and radio producer.

Her first published story was in The People's Friend in the 1930s. She moved to London in 1949 and, while working in a variety of other jobs, began writing radio plays for the BBC. Much of her work has been autobiographical, capturing the speech and landscape of the north-east of Scotland, and evokin
More about Jessie Kesson...

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