“An example of how things could be in a more generous world” Lore Segal’s Other People’s Houses is “an antidote to 2018”


Oliver Bullough in The Observer praises Other People’s Houses, a book written 54 years ago, for its urgent relevance. Lore Segal arrived in Britain at age 10yrs on the first of the Kindertransports, relief trains that were sent to rescue Jewish children from the Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.

“Because her tale is stripped of the hysteria that surrounds her counterparts in the Calais refugee camp or at the Mexican border, we can see it as the wonder that it is. Our country did the right thing by this traumatised and lonely little girl; it protected her until the world was safe for children once more. And, at first, that makes the book feel comforting, and uplifting: something to be filed alongside romanticised accounts of evacuees and the blitz spirit.

But if you translate her beautiful, elliptical prose into today’s terms, her story becomes both radical and unsettling. On their arrival by boat from the Netherlands, she and her fellows were “unaccompanied minors”, the kind of refugees that the Daily Mail would want to undergo dental checks; her heroic achievement in securing visas for her parents is an example of the “chain migration”, so hated by Donald Trump. They didn’t speak English, so how – as the White House chief of staff asked recently – could they integrate?

Of course, her story is untypical. This new edition of Other People’s Houses is timed for the 80th anniversary of the Kindertransports, but those relief trains only rescued 10,000 Jewish children, and only a thousand of those survivors ever saw their parents again. However, the fact Segal survived in Britain, then flourished in the US, is an example of how things could be in a more generous world, an antidote to 2018.”