The Tiger in the Attic: Mem­o­ries of the Kinder­trans­port and Grow­ing Up English

Edith Mil­ton
  • Review
By – July 16, 2012
Not only is Mil­ton an excel­lent writer; she engages the read­er in an ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion, and every page holds one’s inter­est. She reveals her inner­most thoughts and reac­tions to her hosts in the upper-mid­dle class, intel­li­gent, and kind Eng­lish fam­i­ly which she and her sis­ter, Ruth, were for­tu­nate to join for six years as chil­dren on the Kinder­trans­port out of Ger­many. Her descrip­tions of the Eng­lish peo­ple, their homes, gar­dens, and vil­lages; their mores, atti­tudes, and cus­toms; as well as her and her sister’s reac­tions, are peer­less. How touch­ing, the father of the family’s sen­si­tiv­i­ty, kind­ness and sense of jus­tice — he, who at first might have seemed phleg­mat­ic. The moth­er has a nat­ur­al empa­thy with peo­ple, espe­cial­ly for the two lit­tle Jew­ish girls who have come under her mater­nal care; she even con­sults by mail with their moth­er, a refugee in Amer­i­ca, for her per­mis­sion on issues of reli­gion and edu­ca­tion. Mil­ton also sub­tly com­ments on the tran­si­tion of Eng­land from a colo­nial pow­er to a less­er one, demon­strat­ed by the metaphor sug­gest­ed in the title. (The tiger in ques­tion is the hide of an ani­mal shot on a hunt in India, con­vert­ed into a rug, assigned a place of hon­or in a draw­ing room or library, and which, over the years, becomes smelly, moth eat­en and shab­by. From the height of British his­to­ry to the heights of the room des­ig­nat­ed for the family’s dis­cards, the attic.) It is also a com­ing-of-age sto­ry when the author is reunit­ed with her dynam­ic, but less beau­ti­ful, less noble moth­er, once a physi­cian in Ger­many, who, as a refugee in Amer­i­ca, must clean homes before she can slow­ly fight her way back to her pre­vi­ous pro­fes­sion. A mem­oir not to be missed, it has humor, phi­los­o­phy, pol­i­tics, cul­ture, and per­son­al all in one book.
Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

Discussion Questions