Sunday 15 May 2011

A Secret Gift

Finished May 16
A Secret Gift: how one man's kindness - and a trove of letters - revealed the hidden history of the great depression by Ted Gup
I saw this book on the new book shelf at the library and it intrigued me. It continued to do so throughout. When Ted's mother was moving, he came into possession of a suitcase full of documents including a bunch of letters addressed to a Mr B Virdot. At first Ted was distracted by other things, but when he began to examine the letters and ask his mother questions, he discovered a family secret. Mr B Virdot was a name his grandfather used in 1933 to make small donations to needy individuals in the town of Canton. The letters sent in response to a newspaper advertisement explaining their circumstances and why the recipients would be grateful for any money sent opened a window onto the experiences of the Great Depression. Ted's grandfather, Sam Stone, only kept the letters from the recipients of money sent. Ted tracked down the descendants of the letter writers and found out the rest of their stories. Linking the letters to the larger stories of the writers was eye-opening and particularly significant in light of the current economic situation.
The stories are touching, sad, and hopeful, and the honesty of the writers comes across. Most were embarrassed to admit need, proud of the hard work they were trying to do, and many wanted to pay the money back at a future time. Some lives ended sadly, but others were stories of success. Many showed how the offer gave hope in a difficult time.
This is a really interesting bit of history.

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