“A Pride of Tigers” by Sybil Marshall – a memoir of growing up in the East Anglian fens between the world wars

A Pride of Tigers by Sybil Marshall is a memoir of the author’s childhood in the Easy Anglian fens between the wars. This was a time when the area was very isolated and cut off from much which was happening outside the immediate vicinity. The author’s family had lived in the same place for generations and observed many of the same customs and traditions but this book is clear that Sybil was one of the last people to live this way as the modern world finally encroached on the area.

The Tigers in the title are the people of the fens of whom she is proud to be numbered and their pride is important to their identity and sense of community. One of the main themes of the book is the pride and attitude of these self-reliant people who face poverty and hardship and take them in their stride. They have their own words and expressions which also fosters a sense of community.

The author describes her childhood in this community and her years at school where she has opportunities unimagined by others because of her academic ability. She shows how the upbringing she had could disadvantage her but also how it taught her hard work and self-reliance. She also shows how the self-reliance of the people could be risky when they didn’t consult doctors and other outside agencies.

The author’s family are featured in the story and especially her rascally grandfather and his relationship with her grandmother. His life, buying and selling and picking up jobs where he can, shows clearly the contrast with the rest of Sybil’s family although you do feel that she has a soft spot for this old man.

This isn’t a very exciting memoir if you are looking for drama but it is an excellently written depiction of a way of life that is gone now. The author regarded herself as a proud fen tiger into her adult life and she writes with real love and affection for the people of the lonely fens and the life they lived.

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