Dannie Abse: Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve


The latest addition to my website is Dannie Abse‘s Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve. Dannie Abse died last week, aged ninety-one. He was best-known as a poet but he also produced some prose works, including a few novels, of which this, very much an autobiographical novel, is the first. It tells of his life from 1934 (when he was eleven) to five years later, soon after World War II started. it is not flowery and poetical as we might expect from a poet but full of sharp observations of the people around him, particularly some of his relatives. His family is Jewish but this does not appear to be much of an issue for him. Indeed, as he tells his friend, the main difference is that the Jews pray on Saturday, instead of Sunday. They are, of course, very much aware of what is happening in Nazi Germany and young Dannie has this fantasy about a young Polish Jew who goes to the German Embassy in Paris to assassinate the German ambassador. However, most of the book is about growing up, from fighting other boys to first encounter with the opposite sex, both of which come with their own problems. It is a very lively account and very enjoyable picture of his early life, even if its perhap more autobiography and less novel. The title, by the way, comes from T S Eliot’s Little Giddings.

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