My 12 in 12 Challenge – March – Biographies and Memoirs – Book 12

The object of my 12 in 12 Challenge is to read 12 books from my to-be-read pile around the same theme each month. For March it was biographies and memoirs. We have now reached the twelfth book (I am currently reading another which may become book 13 if I get it finished before the end of the month).

Book 12 is Elisabeth’s Lists by Lulah Ellendar and is a biography of her grandmother. Many of the books I have read have approached biography in a different way but this one is very unusual in that the author attempts to reconstruct and understand Elisabeth’s life through a book of her lists which she kept for most of her married life. Each chapter begins with a look at a list and then how it fits with her life and what we can learn from it. This is a very clever premise and the reason why I chose this book, which I actually bought new with some birthday money, because I also have a list making habit although I tend to throw mine away when I no longer need them.

In truth the author has also had access to Elisabeth’s diaries, letters and family memories so the lists are not quite as important as the blurb makes out but nonetheless they do throw an interesting light on the minutiae of the way that she lived.

Elisabeth was the daughter of diplomats and spent most of her childhood abroad. She then married a diplomat and spent most of her adult life abroad. As a diplomat’s wife she had duties and responsibilities which were unpaid but assumed and she was always on show. Not having a proper home, the pressures of a diplomatic life, issues with her siblings and eventually bringing up a family with a peripatetic lifestyle all took their toll and explain why Elisabeth had to be ruthlessly organised.

At the same time as exploring Elisabeth’s life and preparing this book the author’s mother, Elisabeth’s daughter, is diagnosed with terminal cancer and the book reflects the musing that the author undertakes about life, death and memory.

This is a fascinating book filled with pictures in my version which is always nice. I enjoyed the writing a lot and was captivated by what we learned about this sort of lifestyle and demands that it places on diplomats and their families.