The Greatest Need>
By Jasmine Donahaye
Send Me a Parcel With a Hundred Lovely Things
By Carry Gorney
Ragged Clown (Carry-Gorney.co.uk), £11.99
These absorbing and enjoyable books have much in common. They are about creative, politically active women, daughters of Jewish immigrants, determined to live life on their own terms. The Greatest Need is the biography of Lily Tobias, a Welsh Jew, who was also a suffragette, Zionist, playwright, and novelist. Born Lily Shepherd in 1887 to Polish immigrant parents, Lily spoke Yiddish at home, English at school and Welsh with friends and neighbours in the mining village of Ystalyfera, where she grew up.
This multi-lingual childhood gave Lily a unique perspective on a period of tumultuous change.
As well as writing several novels, notably My Mother's House and Eunice Fleet, Lily Tobias was the first person to adapt George Eliot's novel, Daniel Deronda, for the stage - a prestigious production starring Sybil Thorndike.
Tobias was a courageous pioneer with passionate ideals. Small of stature and quietly spoken, she lived a full and meaningful life, even after being tragically widowed, when her husband was murdered in a riot in Palestine in 1938. She was a fervent, early advocate of Zionism and Donahaye's well-researched and vibrant biography can also be read as a commentary on the birth of the state of Israel. Though childless herself, Tobias was close to her nephews, two of whom were Leo and Dannie Abse.
It is striking how invisible this exceptional woman was, and would still remain but for the determination of Donahaye and others at Honno Press (a Welsh women's publishing company). Thankfully, they have republished My Mother's House and Eunice Fleet.
Despite her political activism and considerable literary achievements, Lily Tobias was virtually written out of Zionist history, and her death warranted only a brief mention in the JC and other newspapers of the time.
Carry Gorney's memoir is a deeply felt, unflinching account of her own and her parents' lives.
Her father and mother, Manfred and Thea, fled Nazi Germany for the freedom they hoped awaited them in Britain. However, on arrival in the UK, Manfred was interned on the Isle of Man. The starting point for Gorney's book is a collection from this period of 104 letters that her parents sent to each other and that Gorney read only after her mother's death. The book's title is taken from a request sent by her father to her mother.
Carry Gorney was born in Leeds in the 1950s and, though her parents tried to be as British as possible, her father appeared always to be longing for the lost world of Berlin. Gorney escaped to London in the 1970s and became involved in the Inter Action movement, a kind of urban-kibbutz, social action and community arts organisation based in inner-city estates. She later worked with Community Arts, supporting refugee families, valuable work that has almost disappeared in today's political climate.
Gorney's writing is psychologically acute, rich and sensual. She writes candidly about her breakdown, having recovered from which she trained as a psychotherapist.
Both books, though very different in style, are beautifully written and deserve a wide readership.
Sipora Levy is a freelance reviewer, counsellor and artist