Struggle or Starve by Carole White and Sian Williams

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Struggle or Starve by Carole White and Sian Williams

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: An fascinating anthology of autobiographical writings by women about life in the South Wales mining valleys in the 1920s and 1930s, about childhood, growing up, life, death, education, work and more.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 323 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press
ISBN: 978-1906784096

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Struggle or Starve is a collection of autobiographical writings about girls' and women's lives in South Wales between the wars. This is a new edition of a book first published in 1998 by Honno, an independent publisher set up to encourage Welsh women writers. Most of the contributors in this book came from miners' families and grew up in real poverty and economic insecurity.

The book has a long introduction in which the editors set out their aims in compiling this anthology and provide a historical context to the writings. This is carefully researched with detailed footnotes, and I quite like this academic feel, but some readers might prefer to skip forward to the writings and come back to the introduction later.

The title of the book suggests a rather grim existence, and the lives of women in the valleys at this time must have been very hard. There are some very sad stories here, such as those of losing parents and siblings to illness and pit accidents, and the stress that poverty and strikes put on families and communities. However, there are also many happy and amusing memories recounted here. There are lots of stories of childhood games, school and church outings, love and kindness. In one of my favourite stories, Fairy Albert by E M Mitchell, a father explains to his other children that a baby who is severely disabled and not expected to live more than a few months is a fairy that they have to look after.

As well as these women's individual stories, this anthology also offers a perspective on labour movement history. Many of these women had fathers who were on strike in the 1920s. A lot of them were active in the Labour Party later, and one became the Women's Organiser in Wales for the party. One joined the Communist Party.

In some ways the women whose work is in the book were perhaps a bit different from many of the others in their communities. Many of them were clever children who did well at school. Some had to leave school and take jobs or look after their families, notably Maggie Pryce Jones who lost her mother (at only 39) when she was 15. But some of them did go on to higher education and worked as teachers and civil servants. Menna Gallie published six novels, some of them in the US as well as in Britain. There is an Appendix at the end with some biographical information about each of the contributors, and many had careers or writing success (including print publications and radio plays) later in their lives (as most of them were born between 1900 and 1930, some are still alive but others have died).

The quality of the writing in this anthology is consistently quite high and I laughed and cried quite often at different points in my reading. I hope at some point to be able to read some of the published memoirs and novels that the extracts here were taken from - some are available from Honno via the publisher's website or via Amazon.

I would like to thank the publishers for sending this book to the Bookbag.

Other reading suggestions include other anthologies of reminiscences and works of fiction published by Honno. Back Home by Bethan Darwin is reviewed here and is partly set later in the 1940s. The Eyrie by Stevie Davies is a novel about an elderly woman living in South Wales. Nella Last's Peace is the edited diaries of a woman after the Second World War (again, a little later than the setting of the writings in this book).

Buy Struggle or Starve by Carole White and Sian Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Struggle or Starve by Carole White and Sian Williams at

Buy Struggle or Starve by Carole White and Sian Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Struggle or Starve by Carole White and Sian Williams at


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