The work is primarily autobiographical and is an exhaustive detail of Abse’s early life in Cardiff and the events that end when WWII begins. We see a young Dannie start out life taking inspiration from others, like most children do. We see Dannie look up to his uncle Bertie to begin with, though we soon observe that he is not exactly the most savoury character, especially in his leaning towards fights and so forth.
We see Dannie become wise to the failings of this life path and he ditches what could have been a disastrous future. Though his main friendship in life starts out in a hostile manner, this too mellows and we see how Dannie matures into a decent and respectable young man. It is this in-depth display of early life which spares very details that is of importance.
It makes the transitional elements of the narrative take prominence. The internal growth of an individual rather than the series of events themselves. We truly see how Dannie changes and how his view of the world sways quite rapidly. However, one can also see how Abse has so cleverly used these themes, which are all internal and heavily introspective, quite literally the life of a young man in Cardiff, in order to shine a light on those external events that were occurring at the same time.
By doing so, Abse effectively interweaves the two, making the personal seem impersonal, the distant near and so on. It conveys a greater interconnectivity present in the world in which developments far off in other nations (rises to power, formations of ideologies) have effects that spread across the world so wide and trickle down so deep as to influence the internal conflicts of a young boy in Cardiff.
From this, one can see that Abse’s autobiographical account does more than just offer an insight into a life, but it uses the events and thoughts within that life to create an argument, a viewpoint on the wider world at the time.
His own turmoils are at constant tug between the turmoils in the world until we see the beginning of WWII and how those external forces eventually take hold and violently impose themselves on Dannie’s life rather than just act as a distant spectre. We see his family life shattered and the ways in which this turn of events influences his attitude.
Ash On A Young Man's Sleeve
Widely acclaimed for its warm humor, lyricism, and honesty, this accurate evocation of the 1930s has become a classic. In this delightful autobiographical novel, Dannie Abse skilfully interweaves public and private themes, setting the fortunes of a Jewish family in Wales against the troubled backdrop of the times: unemployment, the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, and the Spanish Civil War.