Review: The Sparrows of Edward Street by Elizabeth Stead
It’s 1948. The war is over but times are tough. The widowed Hanora Sparrow, mother to teenage girls, finds herself homeless when her married lover ceases to support them. Destitute, their only option is to move to a disused military camp maintained by the Housing Commission. Nothing more than rows of corrugated iron shacks, the camp is a way station for the disenfranchised.
With the help of pills, Hanora survives this humiliation by playing records and reading books, relying on her daughters for financial support. The younger one, Rosy, is not much help. It falls to Aria, the elder daughter, to see them through. Blessed with beauty, a great figure, and nice breasts—which she calls ‘her currencies’—Aria works as a model for an advertising agency. While this seems to be a setup for her exploitation, it quickly becomes clear that Aria is a force to be reckoned with.
Elizabeth Stead evokes the post-war period without falling into sentimentality. All her characters bear the stamp of authenticity, but Aria Sparrow is an Australian original, at once hard-boiled and delightful. The Sparrows of Edward Street is one of those rare books that makes you look at the world differently. Stead reminds us that the elderly woman next door was once beautiful and maybe desperate; she might have been the one to hold her family together, doing what it took but maintaining her dignity. In spite of its unlikely subject matter, this uplifting novel is destined to become an Australian classic.
The Sparrows of Edward Street
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in April 2011.