This eBook is a relaunch of Gael Elton Mayo’s 1983 memoir and reads like a ‘Girl’s Own Adventure Story’. Mayo was Australian-born but the family moved to America, due to her father’s career, when she was very young. Her life was again turned upside down when, at the tender age of eight, she and her fourteen year old sister were sent away to school and never again lived at home with their parents.
The author speculates as to whether they were sent away because her parents were too old to cope with children, her mother was more than fifty; or was it rather they wanted a European education for their girls – something they had missed? Whatever the reason, this was just the beginning of Mayo’s peripatetic life and it seems to me that for the rest of her life she was like flotsam, tossed about by wind and waves.
Mayo writes ‘I have never been able to explain these events’ when she describes the birth of her son as she and her husband are fleeing the German advance across France in WWII. It remains unclear why she married Vsevolod and even more puzzling is why her parents accepted the idea of her marriage at just 17 to a penniless White Russian émigré when they had earlier opposed her marriage to an Italian who at least had a career and money.
Other reviewers have described the story as ‘moving’ and the author as full of ‘determination’ and ‘spirit’. The many trials and tribulations she encountered in building a life for herself and her children in Europe, America and England are excitingly described and she meets some fascinating people but she didn’t settle anywhere for very long. I am left with the feeling it wasn’t until very late in life that she really displayed ‘determination’ and ‘spirit’ and asserted herself to direct her own life rather than having it directed by others.
While Mayo may have experienced more danger, excitement and met many more famous people, I found her memoir typical of her social class and position, and very much of her time. The opportunities to make a life for herself through her artistic pursuits and in so many countries were only available to a very fortunate few and I remain unmoved by her trials and tribulations and somewhat exasperated by the way she allowed herself to be tossed around like flotsam for most of her life.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 6