AS I WALKED OUT ONE MIDSUMMER MORNING
Laurie Lee (1969) ISBN 0-14-00-3318-1
I cannot fully convey to you what a treasure this book is. This is the vivid, wry, deeply felt and wonderfully, beautifully written account of a young man, the author himself, walking out the door of his English family home deep in the English countryside, to seek his fortune, to find himself, to find his road in life. By a path of almost whimsical-seeming choices, the author found himself eventually in London, and eventually leaving England to try his luck on the Continent. And then he found himself in Spain, walking on foot town-to-town, supporting himself with his violin – and this put him in exactly the right time and the right place to experience the Spanish Civil War when it erupted around him.
In a strange way, though, none of that is really important. It isn’t what happens to the author in this remarkable, slim little memoir that matters or makes this a book worth reading and rereading: it is Laurie Lee’s tremendous powers of human observation and his skill with language. The world he describes in fascinating detail, the people he describes with all their foibles and worries and human twitches is so vivid, so visceral and so poignant as to be magical.
There are a small handful of books that I buy whenever I see them in second hand bookstores just so I can have spare copies at hand to give away. This is one of those books and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It entranced me on the first reading, startled and dumbstruck me. Rereading it is a joy. I don’t even want to reveal too much of the detail of the book for fear of taking away some of the wonder of the small thoughtful observations. I’ll say only this: Laurie Lee was a rare person, gifted with second sight though it was not the second sight that lets people see fairies, it was the second sight that lets people see people – ordinary people – people who might be overlooked by others – and it was a sight that let Laurie Lee see how, in their own way, personal to them, ordinary people lead lives that are more epic and more courageous than any Homeric tale or Shakespearian history. Go and find this book and read it. I can’t promise it will restore your faith in humanity, but if it doesn’t I do not know what possibly could.