A Child’s Vision of Jerusalem during the Golden Age of Reconstruction

By Rebecca Joubin

Child in Jerusalem
By Felicity Ashbee
Syracuse University Press, 2008

 
Felicity Ashbee begins her memoir with her family’s journey to Jerusalem. She writes: “It was rather frightening and at the same time there was a thrill of excitement in looking down into the water through the little square holes of the steps. Felicity clutched the rail with a small nervous hand and set her feet firmly one another over the transparencies.” Told in third person narration from beginning to end, Felicity Ashbee’s lyrical memoir paints a portrait of post- WWI Jerusalem through the eyes of a young British girl. As her father pioneered for four years to restore the city architecturally and artistically, young Felicity experienced childhood during Jerusalem’s “golden age of restoration,” a time when religious faiths were at ease with one another. She expressively portrays contradictions present in her life and the city surrounding her. She shows how her father, despite his progressive ideas for restoration, remained unwilling to provide a proper education for his four daughters. Nevertheless, the girls learn to express themselves through the example of their mother, who was ahead of  er times. Ashbee poignantly describes how her hair was once cut into a short boyish crop, giving her the hope that she would transform into a boy and please her father. Years later she remembered her sense of disillusion when Abou Saleem told her mother that four daughters don’t count, that only a son brings joy to the family. He simply shrugged his shoulders in pity when Mrs. Ashbee said she preferred having daughters. These memories and impressions are subtly juxtaposed with images of Jerusalem as Felicity experienced it, once again grounding us back in time and place. Her innocent childlike perceptions of her new milieu are told against a constant and poignant historical background, which makes this memoir all the more powerful and unique. Even her family archival photographs interspersed throughout the memoir share their space with photographs of Jerusalem. Indeed, Jerusalem is the central character in her memoir.
 

This review appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 16, no. 63

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