The Handkerchief Drawer : An Autobiography In Three Parts / Thelma Ruck Keene

When Keene’s wrote this autobiography in 2002, she was eighty-six years old and living in Vancouver, British Columbia. But the story she shares only covers a portion of her life, from 1916 to 1966. Still alive today, perhaps she is working on part two of the book.

Shortly after her birth in 1916, Thelma Ruck Keene’s father was killed on a battlefield in France. His family was British to the core, and firmly entrenched in society’s upper middle class. Her mother, on the other hand, while British, had the taint of a Spanish grandfather. In the first part of this autobiography, Keene describes a childhood where she moved back and forth between both families. When visiting her father’s parents, there was a large country house to stay in, complete with two servants. For the most part though, she lived in humbler circumstances with her mother. As a young girl, she traveled to San Antonio, Texas, where her mother and an uncle earned Chiropractic degrees. Then it was back to England where she was sent off to boarding school.

Keene’s description of her childhood in pre-World War II Britain and America makes for interesting reading. But the second half, covering the war years, really drew me in. It is during this time that she travels to Budapest to work for the British government. Soon dislodged when Hungary joined the Axis in 1940, she moved to Greece, only to be uprooted again by the advancing German army. Then it was on to Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus. Along the way, Keene describes the different cultures she was exposed to, and the various men who were drawn into her orbit. As one would expect of a woman raised in a more restrictive era, this is not a kiss and tell kind of book. But clearly, a wartime environment led to a loosening of moral boundaries.

Part three of this autobiography covers the years from 1944 to 1966, and addresses life in Britain following the war, her failed marriage, and the son that resulted from it. But while it addresses her growing independence as a person, it seems rather humdrum compared to the first two parts of her life.

As a self-published autobiography, The Handkerchief Drawer is not a book that can be found in bookstores. Nonetheless, I was impressed by Keene’s ability to vividly recreate the history of her past. Not only that, it turns out that she is a gifted writer. If still available, it is a book that would engage a good many readers. This autobiography is no mere vanity project.

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