The year is 1939. As war breaks out across Europe, nine-year-old Susie and her older sister Gyll are dispatched to Africa by their mother. Alone on the dusty continent, the sisters find little sympathy in their new guardians, and little to like about their new way of life: patched-up clothes, a 6 o'clock bedtime (a particular indignity), and regular obsessive cleanliness rituals. Their continued presence a nuisance, and overwhelmed by fear of doing the wrong thing, Susie and Gyll seek an ally in Mavis, the only other child of the house, but it's a relationship that becomes tinged with jealousy.
Feeling increasingly abandoned as the years pass and letters from home become ever more infrequent, the sisters begin to dream desperately of escape; if only they could go home, everything would return back to the ways things used to be. But when they do finally arrive home and get off the boat, no one is there to greet them. Gradually they learn that their mother has joined the Polish army and that their father has taken on a mistress, who has moved into the family home. Life only gets stranger when they are sent off to the baffling Cheltenham Ladies College, where English boarding school life only adds to their feelings of alienation.
Recounting a youth filled with both hope and despair, Susan Kennaway writes with a charm and honesty of the challenges of growing up during evacuation. The Yellow Duster Sisters is a wonderfully evocative and moving exploration of the shifting nature of wartime family relationships.
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