Acclaimed writer Barbara Holland, whom the Philadelphia Inquirer has called "a national treasure," finally tells her own story with this atmospheric account of a postwar American childhood. When All the World Was Young is Holland's account of growing up in Washington, D.C., during the 1940s and '50s, and is a deliciously subversive, sensitive journey into her past.
Mixing tales of an autocratic stepfather, a brilliant, reclusive mother, and a houseful of siblings with jump-rope rhymes and dangerous sled runs, teachers both wise and weird, and a child's-eye view of war, Holland gives readers a unique and sharp-eyed look at history and the world of childhood as it used to be.
Holland has enjoyed a prolific writing career 14 celebrated books, including Gentlemen's Blood, and essays in a wide range of periodicals and her autobiography is appropriately impressive. For it isn't just the idiosyncratic story of one brilliantly observant girl growing up in WWII-era Washington, D.C.; it's also an authentic history of that time, made enjoyable by its humor and honesty. Plucky little Barbara moves through the world with insatiable curiosity about gender roles ("Never was a woman between eighteen and eighty seen in a chair"), patriotic duties ("Why we were sent to the cafeteria for a pretend air raid but sent home for a real one is another mystery") and the unique cruelty of children ("Children sympathize only with animals"). Even as the neglected stepdaughter of an abusive patriarch, Holland never victimizes herself. Instead, she finds strength in her socialist grandmother's political rants, the library books she feverishly consumed as a youngster and the unlikely haven of a downtown department store where her mother installed window displays. Holland's deadpan chapter titles "The Chairs & Domestic Habits of Fathers Are Explored, & Nick Is Born" are just a taste of her unsentimental and witty approach; in the conclusion, she describes herself: "I am a writer. Not a famous writer, just a plain writer." Deathly afraid of ostentation, Holland sneaks in profundity, and the result is a delight.