‘I do not know how suicide would play with them and I do not have the bravery to find out,’ writes Natasha Walter, bravely, of the refugee women with whom she was working at the time of the death of her mother, Ruth, by suicide six years ago. Her memoir describes how Ruth, at seventy-five, was a loving and not uncheerful mother and grandmother who, detecting the beginning of Alzheimer’s and dreading its progression, planned her death with the lonely precision necessitated by our laws against assisted suicide. Walter, full of guilt as well as sadness, took leave from her work running a small charity and, after a brief foray into modish self-helpery, settled down to write this book, an examination, both glancing and gripping, of Ruth’s life as the daughter of two German Jews who escaped to England in the late 1930s and were briefly interned at the beginning of the war.
Walter’s familiarity with the displaced and fearful makes her a gentle chronicler of the lives of her cautious and repressive grandparents, who eventually settled in Golders Green and somehow failed to ensure that Ruth learned English before starting school aged five in 1947. In later years, Ruth would