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Divided Lives: Dreams of a Mother and a Daughter

Lyndall Gordon

4 Reviews

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Biography: general, Autobiography: general, Biography: literary, Memoirs, Prose: non-fiction

From the renowned and award-winning biographer of Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Mary Wollstonecraft among others, a universal story about mothers and daughters.

Lyndall Gordon was born in 1941 in Cape Town, a place from which 'a ship takes fourteen days to reach anywhere that matters'. Born to a mother whose mysterious illness confined her for years to life indoors, Lyndall was her secret sharer, a child who grew to know life through books, story-telling and her mother's own writings. It was an exciting, precious world, pure and rich in dreams and imagination - untainted by the demands of reality.

But a daughter grows up.

Despite her own inability to leave home for long, Lyndall's mother believed in migration, a belief that became almost a necessity once the horrors of apartheid gripped their country. Lyndall loves the rocks, the sea, the light of Cape Town, but, struggling to achieve a life approved by her mother, she tries and makes a failure of living in Israel and then, back once again in her beloved South Africa she marries and moves with her husband to New York.

It's in America in 1968 when suddenly Lyndall realises she cannot be, and does not want to be, the woman, the daughter and the mother her mother wants her to be.

This is a wonderfully layered memoir about the expectations of love and duty between mother and daughter. The particular time and place, the people and the situation are Lyndall's, but the division between generations, the pain and the joy of being a daughter are everywoman's.

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Praise for Divided Lives: Dreams of a Mother and a Daughter

  • Lyndall Gordon manages to avoid being undaughterly about her exciting, difficult, self-obsessed mother . . . as racy as a novel - Guardian

  • A biographer with soul, she reaches into the hearts of those she brings alive for us. She makes the meaning of their lives sing and sweat as she invites us into their experiences, their longings, their struggles and their disappointments . . . [a] fascinating mix between memoir and biography - Observer

  • [A] beautifully written and troubling memoir - Independent on Sunday

  • This quietly devastating book takes us into many strange terrains but it is to the 'inner life of that room' in Cape Town that Gordon finds herself returning. It was there she fountained into one of our most sensitive writers - Mail on Sunday

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Lyndall Gordon

Lyndall Gordon is the prizewinning author of biographies including CHARLOTTE BRONTE, VIRGINIA WOOLF, SHARED LIVES and MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. Born and raised in South Africa, Lyndall is a fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford.

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