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London's Notting Hill in the 1950s was an unimaginably different place to the white stucco splendour it's known for today. Alan Johnson's family lived in condemned housing, declared unfit for human habitation, in a cramped flat with no central heating, no electricity and no running water. His mother, Lily, battled against poor health, poverty, domestic violence and chronic loneliness to try and ensure a better life for her children. His sister, Linda, took on an adult's burden of responsibility and fought to keep the family together when she was still only a child. This personal story is played out against the background of a community on the verge of massive upheavals. We move from postwar austerity, through the early days of immigration and race riots, into the swinging Sixties, when Alan and his band recorded a record on Denmark Street and he became a teenage father and husband. No matter how harsh the detail, Alan writes with a spirit of generous acceptance, humour and openness which makes his book anything but a grim catalogue of misery. In the end, This Boy is about success against all the odds, and paints a vivid portrait of a bygone era.
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