Sweetest dream (Lessing, Doris)(2001, paperback)

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The story of a family, spanning most of the twentieth century, has its fulcrum in the Sixties, that contradictory and embattled decade about which argument becomes louder every day. The young of that time, bursting old bonds and demanding freedom, were seen by some of their elders not at all as they saw themselves, as romantic idealists,  but ad deeply damaged people. Old Julia, the clan’s matriarch, knows why. ‘You can’t have two dreadful wars and then say “That’s it, and now everything will go back to normal.” They’re screwed up, our children, they are children of war.’

Remarkable women, Julia and Frances, grandmother and mother, fight for ‘the kids’ against obstacles, the worst being Comrade Johnny. Here is an unforgettable picture of a character only recently departed from our scene. ‘The revolution comes before personal matters’ is his dictum, as he deposits discarded wives and hurt children in the accommodating house whose emotional centre is always the extendable kitchen table, that essential prop of the Sixties, where they all sit around through the evenings, eating, joking, boasting about their shoplifting, debating the violent ideologies of the time, which take some of them out to the Third World, one to a South African village dying of AIDS.