The following book review was written by Bobbi King:
The opening pages show the Charles Booth Poverty maps of the London boroughs of St. Saviour, Southwark, and Whitechapel. The legend denotes the streets and residences of: “Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.”; “Very poor, casual. Chronic want.”; “Poor.”; “Mixed. Some comfortable, others poor.”; “Upper middle and Upper Classes. Wealthy.” Seeing a poverty map on the first pages of a story clues us in that this may not be a joyful tale.
The authors tell the story of their ancestors’ taking leave of rural poverty in Wales seeking a better life in urban London. Benjamin Jones gathers a few of his cows, the only manner of livelihood he knows, and along with his soon-to-be wife Margaret Davies, walks the distance from their impoverished rural homes to what becomes their impoverished urban home in the borough of London. The story follows the lives of their children and grandchildren who gradually pull out of their own difficult situations to achieve a measure of comfortable living in England and later, in London, Ontario, where a great-granddaughter Doris, who serves as a focal character of the saga, emigrates out of England to begin and live out her own life in London, Ontario, Canada.
This book is not only the story of the Jones families, but also the story of London in transition from its gritty and murderous underside (the authors’ family lived in Jack the Ripper’s neighborhood), to social reform that improved the lives of insane asylum inmates (a few of the authors’ ancestors were committed), the strikes demanding labor reform, women’s suffrage, improvement in education, to the alarm of the Spanish flu years and England’s suffering during the First World War.
Cowkeeper’s Wish is truly a family saga. The authors relate the lives and times of four generations of a family as they steadily labored through the hardships and miseries of the world, probably more representative of most lifetimes than we stop to think about.
It’s not a joyful story, but it’s an enduring one.