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Book Review: A Shadow In My Life By Rita Jerram
Claire Archer, Features Writer
A Shadow in My Life is Rita Jerram's tender and touching memoir of the eighteen months that she spent on Ward B of a tubercular sanatorium in Staffordshire in 1953, when she was only fifteen years old.

Although by the end of the Second World War a new drug was being developed which could cure deadly tuberculosis, the authorities still persisted in the treatment of the time, which was to hospitalise patients for long periods of bed rest and fresh air.

Rita was one of eleven female patients who would often form strong bonds of affection on the ward due to their shared experience and close proximity.

Through pen portraits, Rita tells the intimate stories of the many other fascinating patients and staff of the sanatorium, giving an insight into the life and culture of a cross-section of women in post-war Britain, with many poignant moments.

Rita admits that she grew to love her fellow sufferers and that although she was battling a potentially fatal disease, her time there changed her life forever, giving her the values of love and strength which sustained her throughout her life.

Rita Jerram
Although the book deals with a very melancholy subject, there are several humorous moments and depictions of her fellow patients' and visitors' antics. Her respect and admiration for the stern but highly dedicated and disciplined Ward Sister McIvor is a unifying thread throughout her narrative.

At the age of fifteen, Rita's education was abruptly interrupted with her incarceration in the sanatorium.

In her own story Rita explains that she had always been a voracious reader, which has clearly helped her to develop her clear and flowing writing style.

She includes some deft touches, such as when she describes a relief nurse as having "a velvety voice like soft treacle melting from a spoon."

Rita is not only candid about her fellow inmates' lives, but also admits that suffering tuberculosis and the strict regime of the sanatorium helped her to recover from Anorexia Nervosa, which she was already suffering from before she entered the institution.

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Fortunately, unlike several of her beloved companions, Rita eventually recovered from this debilitating disease with the help of the new drug Streptomycin, whereafter she was released from the sanatorium and went on to lead a rich and full life.

As sanatoria have now, thankfully, disappeared from view, Rita's memoir is an important historical document, describing from personal experience the end of an era.

Perhaps above all, it is a fitting and affectionate tribute to the people who made such a formative and lasting impression on a young girl's life.

A Shadow in My Life is published by Stairwell Books

Book Review: A Shadow In My Life By Rita Jerram, 7th January 2019, 9:47 AM