Journey From Wartime Europe to Self-Discovery

Author: Maxwell, Donald R.


“Even if Donald Maxwell’s autobiography covers less than half a century, the French poet’s line comes to mind as one reads it: 'I have more memories than if I were a thousand years old.' A great number of our contemporaries have succumbed to the temptation of telling about their own lives; few have reached the level of felicitous integration of facts and circumstances mostly linked by little else than chance ... There is little doubt that this book will be warmly received by a great number of people in this country, but also in Great Britain.” - Marcel Muller, Professor Emeritus, The University of Michigan

“Inspired by Henri Bergson and Marcel Proust, Donald Maxwell, himself a man both of science and of letters, draws a warm and moving portrait of a childhood spent first in France, then in England, and finally war-time America. Plumbing the eddies and torrents of that trifurcated memory, Maxwell captures the complex skein of the different personas making up what we too simply call the self.” – Professor Thomas M. Kavanagh, Yale University

“Historians tell us the past is a foreign country. So too is our childhood, once we’re of an age to have moved away from it. But thanks to memory we remain 'native' to our childhood, and can even introduce others to its pleasures and pains, its peculiar atmosphere and odd customs. That’s what Donald Maxwell does in this absorbing book, oscillating between deceptively simple narrative and acutely rendered, Proust-like moments of recaptured sensation.

But Maxwell’s childhood was itself an experience of foreignness, and of foreignness renewed, as the dangers of war forced his French mother and American father to move from France to England, and then to send Donald, aged 11, to live for the duration with friends of his father in New Jersey. His story is an account of successive discoveries and assimilations as a French-speaking six-year old learns, a bit reluctantly, to be an English school-boy and then, more enthusiastically, to become a confident and cheerful American teenager, only to have to face reassimilation to English ways and to relearn his mother’s French at war’s end.

It’s quite hard to realize these days how very different adjacent cultures such as the French and the English, the English and the American, were only a short time ago ... He is especially good on the difference between French, English houses and domestic habits; schools and concepts of education; entertainment, pastimes, sports and leisure ... Now that history has blunted what were until recently sharply evident cultural differences – the differences remain, its true, but have become much harder to discern and describe – its good to have such a detailed and well-observed evocation of things as they were 'back then'”. - Professor Ross Chambers, University of Michigan

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
1. To America?
2. The Voyage
3. The Discovery
4. School Days
5. On the Farm
6. I Find a Brother
7. England Again