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Antigona and Me by Kate Clanchy

This is a true story. Antigona is Kosovan, a single mother with two daughters and a young son; they are refugees in London. They had a terrible journey to get there escaping from war and Antigona’s wife-beater of a husband. Kate Clanchy has a happy home and a young baby, but needs time to restart her career as a poet and journalist. A chance meeting of the two leads to Kate offering Antigona a job firstly as a cleaner, then later nanny, recognising Antigona’s strength of character. Antigona has a fantastic work ethic and soon fills every day with cleaning jobs, and waitressing in the evenings.

The two women click and become friends. Gradually Kate teases out Antigona’s story: about the culture of living in the Albanian mountains and their strict code of law, the Kanun, which is honour-led; about their hard lives; about how she’s desperate to find out what happened to her family; about how her brothers also in London don’t accept her divorce. Kate is fascinated, horrified, humbled, and also really wants to help as much as she can. Antigona embraces Western culture, yet the Kanun runs deep, and when her daughters are on the cusp of becoming young women, she can’t let them go; Kate finds these attitudes very difficult.

Clanchy agonises over everything; she may be a liberal feminist, but overall tries very hard to understand and remain balanced. This was a engaging memoir which has moments of humour for all the awful events within. Clancy’s poetic style is very readable, precise and perfectly punctuated. The whole was a fascinating snapshot into another very different culture that is yet part of Europe. (8/10, Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme).

P.S. For a take on some of Clanchy’s poetry, read Marie Philips post here.

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