THE BOOK: Survival: From a Broken Childhood to PhD


THE AUTHOR: John L Fahey

THE EDITOR: John L Fahey


SUMMARY: There are times when an idyllic childhood in Ireland, even for just a few years, can sustain that child as he grows older, encountering physical abuse and terror. That was so for me between 1949 and 1953.

Ireland has been in my heart ever since.

My memoir is about a battering father who would not accept me as his son. It is about my love of Ireland sustaining me, giving me the courage to fight back against despair, to seek a better life through reading and hope and education. It is about never giving up. After a disastrous road accident which scarred my face at 17 and cycling from northeast England and across the Irish Sea to Knock, seeking a miracle, I found the burden of despair lifted from my shoulders.

In my memoir I write about being born in Tees-side in 1944, being taken to my grandparents in Ballybohan, Roscommon when I was almost five, finding love and safety, being torn away when I was nine and taken back to England to be battered continually through my teenage years by my father who called me a bastard.

I gained entrance to a Marist grammar school at age 11, St. Mary’s College, and sought a means of escape through reading as many books as I could from a local public library and my school books. Living with my battered mother, two younger sisters and two younger brothers in a slum, my father would threaten to blind me if he caught me reading. I had to hide my books and study in remote places, forging my parent’s signature on report cards because I did so well.

When I passed eight ‘O’ levels my father raged at me and told me I was going to dig ditches and reading was going to be beaten out of me. The Marist priests at my Marist College intervened and got me a job as a laboratory assistant in I.C.I., a bus ride from our house.

By that time I cycled everywhere on my ten speed bike. I’d begun newspaper deliveries when I was 11, earned money babysitting and continued studying for my ‘A’ levels at Stockton-Billingham Technical College, taking over paying for the rent and food for the table, battling my father demanding and forcibly taking my earnings.

I would not give up hope, would not let myself despair; I had my memories of Ballybohan and Ireland to take me through the worst times. I was hit by a car cycling to school when I was 17 and was horribly facially scarred and I was beginning to be aware I was attracted to other lads my age. I was horrified what I read in books about that. I pleaded and prayed that God would have mercy on me and take my life.

I took that cycle ride to Knock seeking a miracle – once there I instantly changed my prayers that a crippled child would get that miracle and I would accept my scarred face. I returned to Tees-side with even more hope and determination. I discovered books by Mary Renault on the life of Alexander the Great and his beloved Hephaestion. It led me to reading about Achilles and Patroclus. I realized I was not doomed. It seemed as if it was a message from God because that first book was called ‘Fire from Heaven’.

I passed my ‘A’ levels’ and was accepted to the University of St. Andrews to study Chemistry. My father’s sister Josie protected me, having all letters sent to her house, for his signature to be forged. He attacked me when I told him I’d been accepted to University. I escaped on the train north to Scotland.

I went through emotional crises when there, became popular, loved music and dancing, graduated with an Honours degree in Chemistry, finally met other gay people in Amsterdam, got an invitation to visit New York, applied for and got a job and a green card from a Pharmaceutical Research Institute that was to launch me on a successful professional career.

I have never forgotten what my childhood in Ballybohan gave to me. I still weep for children who are abused. I wish that my account will give hope to others that no matter how terrible the circumstances determination and reading can offer a way to escape.

THE BACK STORY: My book Survival is an account of my life up to the age of 23 and ends as I am migrating to America. That began my career as a research scientist. In subsequent years I made my own contributions to the progress of fighting against disease. I worked for major pharmaceutical companies, then a Professor of Chemistry teaching students my love of organic chemistry, guiding them to lift their eyes to a further horizon, and later still was a Director of Clinical Research in several areas of disease. Throughout those years I was driven to do my best, to strive for excellence, putting my teenage years behind me. The frontier of science and medicine was, and is, my life. As I reached 71 I felt impelled to write the story of my early years, initially for later generations of my Fahey clan, more recently for wider distribution after friends urged me to publish it. I hope it is inspirational, that even at the darkest times looking forward with hope and determination and reading can pave a path to success. Writing it was very therapeutic for me. I’m currently writing about my years after reaching America.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I did survive.

REVIEW COMMENTS: [Following is the official review of “Survival” by John Fahey.]

Sometimes you come across a book so powerful the words jump off the page and lodge in your heart. The non-fiction memoir Survival: from a Broken Childhood to PhD by John Fahey is one of those books.

The author takes a look back at an abusive childhood in post-World War II England, including a four-year idyllic respite living in Ireland with his paternal grandparents. Born illegitimate, his father is pushed to marry his mother when the author is seven months old. Even then, John’s nasty, alcoholic father continues to refer to him as “you bastard” and routinely abuses the entire family physically and verbally. Imagine a child having to read secretly for fear of getting caught and beaten. John loves to read and does exceptionally well in school, gaining entry through an education grant to a highly regarded school. His resilience and determination throughout a dismal childhood of violence and extreme poverty shines through in this story. I was spellbound by this book. It is an unflinching account of a boyhood filled with fear, violence, avoidance, and, as the author states, “daily apprehension.” John’s recollections are vividly described, including the settings of post-war England with its poor neighborhoods and bombed-out buildings and picturesque rural Ireland. Ireland becomes a magical, promised land as he experiences unconditional love and happiness while living there. That wonderful experience, along with his strong Catholic faith, sustains John during the regular verbal and physical abuse inflicted by his father. The descriptions of his years in Ireland are uplifting while the painful memories of the rest of his childhood are heartbreaking to read. There are no Christmas or birthday presents and the author and his sister Patricia envy the children in a nearby orphanage as they hear the laughter from children playing within; at least, they knew those kids received presents. The one time relatives brought over Christmas gifts, his drunken father threw the presents into the coal fire. The author’s lyrical writing style is a joy to read. The early sections about Ireland read like a love letter and are particularly heartfelt. The information about his family living in a poor neighborhood, with little money for even basic necessities, is told in a matter-of-fact way. When John is given an education grant to go to a better school five miles away, he is happy about more than receiving a good education; attending the grammar school at St. Mary’s College guarantees him a nourishing meal each day Monday through Friday and a container of milk in the mornings. To understand how much this means to him is to understand how much we take for granted in our daily lives. John’s small victories and street-smart personality are realistically described. Although John has to turn over his newspaper delivery money to his father, he occasionally uses a portion of his earnings to buy broken biscuits, cookies, and fruit to share with his siblings from the outdoor market. He continues to do this in defiance of his father, who would beat him after finding less than the full wages. His newspaper route and babysitting job for an upper-crust family allow him to see possibilities beyond his harsh life. The babysitting job becomes a safe haven from his father and a quiet place to do his homework. There is an uplifting tone to the story. Although the memories of a violent, poor childhood are traumatic, there is a sense of a light at the end of the tunnel. John is very motivated to better himself even at a young age. As with other true tales of this type, there are often guardian angels that do acts of kindness. This is certainly the case throughout John’s childhood and teenage years. At different times, there are instances of relatives, policemen, teachers, and average citizens showing concern for John and protecting him from his father. This book has earned nothing less than 4 out of 4 stars. The author’s ability to rise above his harsh circumstances is truly inspiring and the writing is superb. Of course, readers who enjoy memoirs would like this book, but I would also recommend it to anyone who appreciates excellent writing in a book of any genre. I feel lucky to have read this story and grateful as I realize how much of my own life I take for granted.


AUTHOR COMMENTS: I will never forget the people throughout my life who have been kind to me.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Can be found by clicking the photo on my Amazon display page.



PRICE: $12.95




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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

One thought on “Survival”

  1. This is a wonderful presentation of John Fahey’s memoir, Survival. I have read the book and reviewed it and can attest to its impact. It is both a painful and an uplifting reading experience. I recommend it without reservation!!


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