Cover Image: Children At The Gate

Children At The Gate

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Lynne Reid Banks is a wonderful author I’ve been reading her novels for years.Her latest book drew me right in characters that come alive a wonderful read.#childrenat the gate,
Was this review helpful?
Many thanks for sending me this novel for review.

We first meet Gerda Shaffer, the protagonist of the novel, in a squalid, though large room, in a poor section of Acre, Israel. She gives us a lot of biographical details, about her father, her mother, her age, that she is divorced and her husband has returned to Canada and she never wants to see him again.
It gradually gets clear that she forces herself to write this diary to ward off her “demons” and abstain from alcohol. Banks narrates Gerda’s story through the notebooks she maintains and skilfully releases information gradually which creates a sense of suspense.
We are introduced to another character, Kofi, who is her only friend and who keeps a watch in her. He is apparently a painter by profession. He disappears from Acre for occasionally long periods which makes the reader suspicious and by the end of the novel we realise he has another secret profession. Like Gerda, Kofi is also divorced. Their lives seem almost inverted. Gerda is Jewish married to a Canadian and Kofi is an Arab married to a French Jewish lady. 
Kofi is devoted to his daughter an occasionally brings her over when he visits Gerda who is very uncomfortable with the child’s presence. Only later on do we learn that Gerda had a son and once again we only learn subsequently what has transpired between her and her husband and the fate of the son, which has resulted in her being washed her up in Acre alone and depressed, her closest companion, alcohol.
Kofi has to go on a ‘journey’ and as he will be away for a few days he leaves his daughter with Gerda. She is initially unwilling to take care of the child but by the end of her stay she grows very fond of her and she realises she would like to adopt a child. But who would entrust a child to a single woman, an alcoholic, living in dire poverty without any steady source of income.

Kofi comes to her rescue and first brings a girl and then her brother and Gerda welcomes them, trusting Kofi implicitly without finding out from where they have suddenly appeared. The result of the adoption is disastrous and Gerda takes refuge in a kibbutz. Banks paints a detailed and interesting picture of life in a kibbutz.
Much of the novel may be through first-hand experience as Banks was evacuated to Canada during the Second World War and lived in Israel for several years where she taught on a kibbutz herself. This assists her in providing an accurate and authentic picture of background to the novel.

Though the Israel Palestine conflict seems to be looming on the horizon, this is peripheral and seldom enters the novel directly. Banks seems to suggest that children are necessary for the fulfilment of women and this may have been a widespread idea in the 1960s when the novel was first published. It seems strange that it has been reissued in a totally different age and I wonder what feminists would make of it.
Was this review helpful?
Children at the Gate was not for me. I read 40% of this book and just couldn't do it anymore. I know it was originally published quite a few decades ago and is currently being re-issued, but I'm wondering if it should have been. The amount of obsession over women needing children to be whole and the power of children to heal "broken" or "damaged" childless and husbandless women was really quite annoying. I don't know if maybe the language changed in the second half of the book, but from my reading of reviews, it did not and that doesn't sit well with me. Women do not need to be exclusively healed through children, nor should children be used as tools to heal. Women do not need children, nor do they need husbands, to not be depressed and suffering from alcoholism. Mental health care, social support, proper medical care and all those other things help women (and men) heal. Children are band-aids or miracle cures and should not be used as such in literature. Strong opinion perhaps, but it's where I'm at with this one. I think when this book was published its plot line may have been received differently, but in 2020, this was a big no go for me.
Was this review helpful?
Lynne Reid Banks is a prolific writer for children and adults, and a born storyteller. You’re always in safe hands when you read one of her books. She was born in London, was evacuated to Canada during WWII, and in 1962 emigrated to Israel where she taught on a kibbutz for 8 years. Her experiences in Canada and especially Israel feed into this story of Gerda Shaffer, who after the breakdown of her marriage and the loss of her son, is slowly drinking herself to death in a squalid flat in a poor area of Acre. She has just one friend, an Arab man known as Kofi, and it is Kofi who looks after her and gives her a reason to engage with the world again. The narrative follows an original and unpredictable course, and the less known about it before reading it the better. Some reviews, in my opinion, give far too much of the plot away. Gerda is a complex, and pretty unlikeable character for most of the novel, and yet Banks manages to gain the reader’s sympathy for her. As well as being a real page-turner, the book is also an atmospheric portrait of life in Israel and on a kibbutz, with the Six Day War looming in the background. The novel was originally published in 1968, and although specific to its time and place, it tackles universal themes of exile, trauma, damaged children and the depredations of war with insight and perception, which makes it as relevant now as it was then. A very good read indeed. Thanks to Sapere Books for reissuing it.
Was this review helpful?
Lynne Reid Banks writes beautifully and her work has been on my shelf for decades. There is much to appreciate in this new book from an absolutely wonderful author.
Was this review helpful?
Children at the Gate was published over fifty years ago, in 1968 (it’s the same age as me, in fact); I remember reading it in the 1980s. I think I was around 15. God knows what I made of it at that age, but it’s a very good book.

Gerda Shaffer, a thirty-nine year old Jewish Canadian woman, has hit rock bottom, living - “squatting, existing” - in a “gaunt, fetid” room in a poor area of Acre, Israel. Once a mother and a wife, Gerda is now neither, spending her days in a deep alcoholic depression. Her only friend, who she determinedly pushes away, is Kofi, a local man - an Arab - with a young daughter. Gerda’s only glimmer of hope for the future comes with the possibility of adopting a child, but of course this is a far from simple endeavour, leading her from Acre to life on a kibbutz and beyond, lurching between hope and despair.

Lynne Reid Banks is an amazing writer and the character of Gerda - who narrates the story through her journal - is fully realised. She’s far from perfect - often selfish and focused on her own needs - but she’s entirely believable, relatable in many ways, and frighteningly honest.

Although dated in some ways - the acceptance of gender role assumptions being a noticeable example, plus the fact that literally everybody smokes - the story holds up very well. I don’t think we’re ever given a date, but I assume it to be the mid to late 1960s (someone with more knowledge of Israeli history could probably pinpoint it more accurately), and World War II looms horrifyingly in recent memory. The story perhaps presupposes an understanding of  Israeli history which I certainly didn’t have when I was fifteen and don’t have much more of now if I’m honest, but it certainly doesn’t depend on it. The insights into life on the kibbutz and elsewhere are fascinating and brilliantly described.

An excellent read, well worthy of a reissue.
Was this review helpful?
This book follows a woman named Gerda and her life in Israel. Some of the narrative is written as diary extracts reporting on the happenings of the day/week. 
The story itself begins when Kofi, a stranger, befriends Gerda and talks her into illegally taking on a child, Ella, with no questions asked. Ella is a poor sight; she is hairless and has been abused and initially regresses to an infant stage, drinking from a babies bottle and wetting the bed. With much care ,Gerda nurses Ella solely back to health.
Kofi then persuades her to take on Ella's brother, Peretz, who is wild ; he destroys gardens, gets into fights and seems to have a complete disregard for all rules in the Kibbutz where they are living .When Kofi breaks the news that the children have been smuggled from Israel and the authorities have asked for their return, Gerda flees with the children and tries to embark on a new life.
This book is well written, fast paced and full of surprises. I first read a book by this author in my secondary school and have remembered it ever since, so I was excited to read this book so many years later. It certainly fulfilled my expectations and is strongly recommended!
Was this review helpful?
It is not often I have to review a book that I did not finish reading.

Let's start on a positive - The title and cover are great and so is the blurb. They all contributed towards making me really want to read this book. 

However, I found the reading really dis-jointed and hard going. I read the first five chapters and while there are moments of relief where it becomes much easier to read and follow, getting to these little pockets is like having one of those nightmares where you are trying to run away but not moving. 

I read five chapters and still can not say what the book is about. Except there is only really one child and no gate and certainly no children at a gate. Perhaps the title is intended as a metaphor. To be five chapters in and not in anyway sucked into a story and to be having to force myself to read just is not good enough.

I think the biggest disappointment for me is that Lynne Reid Banks is a fantastic author! I loved The Indian in the Cupboard as a kid and was so excited to get a post release, free copy of #childrenatthegate in exchange for an honest review, from #netgalley. I have really struggled to write an honest review because of how much appreciation I have for the author as a whole. This book just really is not for me.

That being said, not everyone loves chocolate cake. I hope prospective buyers compare my review with other reviews, it might be that there is someone with similar tastes to another reader who has left a more positive review. Download a free sample of the book on your Kindle if you are unsure and give it a try for yourself. Take a seat in your local book store and read the first chapter before you decide to buy.

Regardless of if you love this book, or like me decide that life is too short for books that you are getting zero enjoyment out of, read The Indian in the Cupboard by the same author, read it with your kids - because THAT story, really is fantastic.
Was this review helpful?
I was excited to read this book, the description made it sound like just my kind of novel.  I enjoyed the idea of the story line and the characters, but unfortunately I got lost from time to time and had trouble following Gerda's ramblings.  There is so much imagery with the writing style, it was hard for me to understand what was happening at different times.  With that being said, I still enjoyed the book.  The highly detailed imagery and deep, vivid characters were easy to love, feel empathy for and even relate to.  Each character brought their own color to the story and added to it's depth.  The self examination of the main character was relatable, and I found myself feeling her emotions with her and understanding her on a personal level.  The author brought out the raw honesty of Gerda and I couldn't help but love and admire Kofi and his beautiful little girl Hannah.
Was this review helpful?
This book was addicting. You wanted to continue reading even long after it was over. The characters felt so real and relatable, and the story was so original.
Was this review helpful?