My book for Book Group this month is Shappi Khorsandi’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English”. It’s an autobiography which covers the comedienne’s life between the ages of three and eleven. I enjoyed it. It was an interesting look at Iran and England in the 1970s and 80s through the eyes of a child and some of her stories were so poignant that they brought tears to my eyes.
Reading autobiographies always leaves me pondering the same puzzling thought. How do these people remember their lives in so much detail?
I suppose that Shappi will have had help focussing her memories from her immediate and extended family. She was very close to her elder brother who presumably would have a clearer recollection of certain events than she would. Sometimes, my brother and I will reminisce about stories from our childhoods and I am always taken aback by how differently we remember something that we both experienced together. So, such conversations may be the trigger for a memory but it won’t necessarily result in a memory that is entirely yours.
Her parents will have told her things too. Stories get passed down a family like folklore. Do I remember my brother falling out of the back of a moving car or is it just that I have heard the story so many times? I’m not sure.
Photos assist of course. I have lots of dim images in my mind which I suspect are as a result of hours spent looking at images in an album rather than a true memory of the event.
What struck me particularly about the book is that she writes about how she felt when various events both happy and sad happened around her. Now I might be able to dredge up odd snippets of my early childhood – a holiday here, a show there. But they really are snippets. I could not give you any details of my day to day life and I certainly have absolutely no recollection of any feelings that I might have had. It may be that she can’t either and that, with the benefit of hindsight, she has imagined how she must have felt at the time. But the book reads like the true memories of a child. Grown up emotions superimposed on someone young stand out a mile, like a picture drawn by an adult in a childish hand.
I wondered about this for a while. I have never thought that my memory was particular poor and yet I appear to have lost whole tranches of my life. After I had fretted for a bit, I reached a conclusion. The things that I can remember are the out of the ordinary events. The rest of the time I was happy and loved and just getting on with being a child. Perhaps when your life is made up of the out of the ordinary, it sticks firmer in your mind together with how you felt at the time? So, moving from your home and your friends and family to a country where you knew no one and could not even communicate, would not be something easily forgotten.
So I stopped worrying about it. The reason why I can’t remember my childhood is because it was happy and safe and secure and nothing ever made me feel in danger or frightened. The bits and pieces that I can recall are enough to remind me how life was and as I cannot imagine why I would ever need to fill a book with the details then that is enough for me.