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ISBN 978-1-909585-40-9
First published June 2021; 252 pp
paperback; 198 x 129mm
click here to read a pdf excerpt.
Leila Berg (1917–2012) grew up in a Jewish immigrant neighbourhood in Salford, Greater Manchester. Flickerbook records her childhood and early youth. In the late 1960s she devised, wrote for and edited the Nippers series of early readers, pioneering the inclusion of working-class and ethnic-minority experience and language in books for children. Her books about childhood and progressive education include Risinghill: Death of a Comprehensive, Reading and Loving and Look at Kids! For more information, see

Ruth Fainlight’s many books include New & Collected Poems (2010) and Somewhere Else Entirely (2018) as well as translations, short stories and libretti.

 Hilary Mantel, DBE, is twice winner of the Booker Prize.

Leila Berg, Flickerbook
An Autobiography


Introduced by Ruth Fainlight
Afterword by Hilary Mantel

First published by Granta in 1997; reissued by CBe in 2021.

‘A strikingly original autobiography, vivid and poetic, funny, sensuous and searingly raw.’ 

     Times Educational Supplement

 Flickerbook is the classic autobiography of the writer Leila Berg (1917–2012), who fought all  her life ‘fiercely and often provocatively for the right of children to be listened to, understood and accepted’ (TES). It recreates childhood pleasures and fears, relationships with family and lovers, and growing political engagement. It ends with an air-raid siren in September 1939: ‘Something new is beginning, and we fumble because we don’t know what it is.’

‘Reading it is a joy; brutally honest depictions of childhood liberate the child within. No retrospective adult reasoning softens the account … Clever, impassioned, enraged, she has to work the world out for herself. “Nobody tells you anything.” Why is Jewish bread different from Christian bread? Why did two boys at infant school bang her head against a wall and accuse her of killing Jesus? A teenager in the 1930s, she joins the Young Socialists and campaigns against fascism. She is an activist. She likes boys, likes her own body, doesn’t want to get married, doesn’t want to be owned or live her mother’s life but enjoys sex (and writes beautifully about it). Her lover joins the International Brigade and is killed in Spain. A second lover likewise. “They die so fast in Spain.” The volume ends with Chamberlain’s announcement of war with Germany and the sound of the first air-raid siren “swooping, scooping, sickening”.
     ‘Flickerbook proceeds through glimpses and vignettes, short paragraphs and big leaps, but there is more of a narrative structure than the title might suggest. It is artful in the best sense, and a radical experiment in memoir-writing. Very quietly the important themes are developed: integrity, honesty, inclusiveness, freedom of thought. Some parts are very funny, and it is through a shared sense of humour – they laugh at Marx brothers films – that young Leila forms a guarded late friendship with her widowed father. This reissue is wholly welcome.’
     – Norma Clarke, Times Literary Suplement (2021)

 ‘This extraordinary memoir … is a series of evocative images which tentatively recreate the emotions of a young girl ... It works magnificently well … the honesty and poetic insight of this superb autobiography.’ 
     Times Literary Supplement (1997)

 ‘This may be the autobiography of one little girl, from baby bridesmaid to Young Communist rebel losing two lovers to the Spanish Civil War, but it has a universal quality – you’ll be catapulted straight back to your own childhood.’

 ‘A wonderfully vivid depiction of the radicalism of the 1930s and, beyond that, an exceptionally artful and honest portrait of adolescent rites of passage.’
     Independent on Sunday

‘It works in difficult places, this book . . . Berg is a fine, evocative writer, with a great ear and eye.’
     – New Statesman 

 ‘An evocative picture of a time and a society, shot through with brilliant vignettes.’
     – Penelope Lively