Helen Forrester (1919-2011), author of The Liverpool Basque, has died


Author Helen Forrester has died at the age of 92
I was very sad to hear today that Helen Forrester, author of the wonderful 1993 novel The Liverpool Basque, has died at the age of 92.
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Of course, The Liverpool Basque isn’t among Forrester’s best-known works- in fact, this vivid and emotional hymn to a vanished community is rarely mentioned in accounts of her career. She made her name with the deeply moving autobiographical quartet inaugurated with Twopence to Cross the Mersey (1974), a terrifying account of the 11-year-old Forrester’s experience of her father’s bankruptcy and the family’s descent into poverty in 1930s Liverpool. As an indictment of the fragility of middle-class status and the effects of poverty on children,  it is absolutely unbeatable. Of course, its horrifying story has gained a new significance in our current unstable times. All politicians should be forced to read it before they make decisions about support for the poorest in our society. Yes, I’m talking to you, George Osborne.
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The Liverpool Basque came about through Forrester’s friendship with Liverpool-born Basque Vicente Elordieta (1910-2004) who, like Forrester, had emigrated to Canada. The novel rather disingenuously begins with the standard disclaimer that all characters and events are fictional, but in fact, it is a faithful depiction of life among Liverpool’s large Basque – or, more specifically, Vizcayan – community in the first decades of the 20th century. As I’ve discovered in the research for my Hispanic Liverpool project, many of the novel’s characters share biographical details with historical Hispanic Liverpudlians. Elordieta was the grandson of Prudencio Clemencot and Ygnacia Ansuategui, who ran a large boarding house at 41 Hurst St, Liverpool, right at the heart of Liverpool’s Basque and Galician communities, and the family and their boarding house are vividly depicted in the novel.
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The community’s history is recounted through the eyes of the child ‘Manuel Echaniz’ – the fictional counterpart of Vicente Elordieta. He watches the men come and go from the sea, where they work on the Larrinaga vessels, and he watches the women hold the fort at home, often in the face of the most devastating hardship. The family at the heart of the novel, like Elordieta’s own family, run a Basque boarding house in Hurst St, which provides a home from home for the streams of Basque migrants awaiting passage to the USA. Manuel’s reminiscences of his Liverpool childhood are interwoven with the story of the adult Manuel in the novel’s present, striving to hold onto his sense of Basque identity after many years living in Canada, where he is now widowed and alone.
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Forrester insists on the fictional status of her story, but her historical counterparts are at last beginning to find their way back into Liverpool’s popular memory. The brand new Museum of Liverpool, opened this summer, includes in its galleries the ledger belonging to Prudencio and Ygnacia, in which they carefully recorded the names and destinations of the Basque migrants who stayed in their boarding house. For the first time, Basque Liverpool has a place in Liverpool history; a Basque or Castilian translation of The Liverpool Basque (any volunteers?) would bring this wonderful story to Basque readers and help restore the Liverpool Basques to their place in the boundless Basque history of the world.
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So, rest in peace, Helen Forrester, and eskerrik asko.
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4 comments

  1. How interesting, I had no idea there was a large Basque and Galician community in Liverpool. “The Liverpool Basque” is going on my reading list!

    1. You’ll love it! And … hardly anybody knows about the Basque and Galician communities. Am trying to change that!

  2. The Basque Comunnity in Liverpool was/is so important. Think on Larrinaga Compàny. But not only.

    1. Hi Koldo, thanks for stopping by. Yes, hugely important! I’m researching them at the moment as part of my Hispanic Liverpool project.

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