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My Real Children    by Jo Walton order for
My Real Children
by Jo Walton
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I loved Jo Walton's alternate history trilogy (Farthing, Ha'Penny and Half a Crown) set in an England where, after the start of WW II, the upper-crust Farthing set took control from Churchill and came to terms with Hitler.

Just as her parallel world England diverged based on that key moment, Walton now gives us in My Real Children a tale of two time streams that diverge with one key decision on the part of a young woman.

As the novel opens, elderly Patricia Cowan is in a nursing home, but seems to switch between two different lives - and two sets of memories. Is one more real than the other? Is this doubling of memories an aspect of her dementia?

Jo Walton follows those memories in time (from 1933 to 2015) to portray two very different lives - on a personal level and with a backdrop of world events. So what was 'the decision that changed everything in her life'? It happened in 1949 when Mark Anston asked her to marry him.

In one set of memories, she agrees and becomes Tricia, raising four children and suffering Mark's ongoing verbal abuse. But it improves with Women's Lib. In the other, she says no and turns into Pat, a travel writer, partnered with Bee. Between them, they have three children, using the same sperm donor.

Seems like Pat's life is better than Tricia's? Personally yes, but the world she lives in does not do as well. In this one, the Cuban missile crisis erupts in 'a limited nuclear exchange' and there are later nukes, with escalating cancer deaths around the world.

My Real Children is a portrayal of how a life - and a world - can diverge, based on key decisions. As elderly Patricia muses, 'Now or never, Trish or Pat, peace or war, loneliness or love?' It's a fascinating read.

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