Austin Macauley Publishers, 2017
The children of the 20th century can certainly lay claim to have lived through what would become seminal moments, the kind of events that formed the contemporary era in which we live. This goes beyond the casual generational upheavals so touted by Baby Boomers. There is still enough of what is called in the United States, The Greatest Generation, to remember the time between the two World Wars. We live with a culturally bias view of history meaning when we consider it we tend to view history through the lens of our own nation. Doing so often blinds us to the massive upheavals that sometimes literally changed the face of the Earth.
Perhaps one of the best ways to gain entry and understanding not just into this era but into how human history unfolds is through the personal narrative, the memoir. Christopher Hamilton’s In The World’s Shadow successfully breaks out of the traditional memoir mold by embracing the techniques of creative nonfiction. Hamilton crafts a life story, an autobiography that’s gripping in its even-handedness and calm telling. Such confidence in prose is rare rewarding readers with a sure voice knowing exactly where it is going because it viscerally remembers where it has been.
For much of the century, Great Britain dominated the world map, and then it all changed. Hamilton as a boy lives through the changes in India and the establishment of apartheid in South Africa before being brought ‘home’ to post-war England for his young adult education. These places each left a deep mark upon Hamilton both directly and tangentially by affecting his family. For example, Hamilton’s aunt Babs threaded the apartheid needle as best she could to help restore to black South Africans a semblance of the rights during the time:
Babs departed the enclosed community and did return to South Africa, spiritually refreshed and ready to face the challenges of a country in the grips of hatred and persecution against its black population by a ruling Nationalist Government.
She worked with the Anglican Church in South Africa. Managed the SPCK Christian shop in Cape Town and set up a unit making communion wafers for all the Anglican churches in South Africa.
Perhaps her greatest sacrifice was the support and help she gave to those blacks suffering from the evils of Apartheid. Eventually she joined Bishop Tutu and Helen Suzman, a woman greatly admired by Nelson Mandela, in their long fight against the Nationalist Government over the harsh treatment of the black population.
Hamilton’s narrative moves between first person and third person recollection with some honest (warts and all) re-creations of conversations had, overheard, and gotten second or third hand. This is where Hamilton’s creativity with his narrative is best deployed because it gives readers the illusion of fiction, of a moving coming of age in post-war England to a grown man’s decisions to engage the remnants of his nation’s empire.
This is more creative nonfiction than memoir giving it more heft, more literary weight, which is clear since it has been entered into the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 for debut writers, a prestigious and selective literary award. Hamilton writes of his life through the 20th century as someone deeply embedded in British colonialism–India, South Africa, England, and Asia Pacific. At once a well-crafted story and a fascinating personal historical document, readers will find In The World’s Shadow a grand reminder of how change effects humanity on the individual level.t
Christopher, born in India was brought up in South Africa and England; educated at Sutton Valence School, Kent and qualified as a Company Secretary. He joined the Royal Navy, and served aboard HMS Ark Royal as a commissioned officer. In the mid 80’s he worked in the computer industry, first with Apple Computers and then Toshiba. A keen sportsman and a great lover of music especially as a choral singer. Some ten years after the death of his first wife, Chris recently married Pauline. He has a daughter and three grandchildren.