Woman in gloves

IN MY MOTHER’S HANDS: A DISTURBING MEMOIR OF FAMILY LIFE

by Biff Ward

Allen & Unwin, $29.99 pb, 280 pp, 9781743319116

For anyone who has ever complained about a difficult mother, or written a memoir about one, this is a humbling book. How trivial, by comparison, our complaints seem. The subtitle promises (or threatens) a disturbing memoir, and so it is. I found it difficult to get out of my head days after reading it.

Biff (born Elizabeth in 1942) Ward was the second child of historian Russel Ward, author of The Australian Legend (1958), and his wife Margaret. Their first child, Alison, had died at four months old, drowned accidentally when her mother fainted while bathing her. Russel told Biff this when she was five or six. That death haunted Biff’s childhood, but it was only much later that she discovered what had really happened. The unveiling of this secret is kept to the end, but its looming presence gives the narrative a creepy power.

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Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Sheila Fitzpatrick is the author of three memoirs, My Father’s Daughter, A Spy in the Archives, and, most recently, Mishka’s War: A European Odyssey of the 1940s (2017). On Stalin’s Team: the Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics, was published in 2015. She is a Professor at the University of Sydney.

Published in August 2014 no. 363

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