Reviewed by MARGIE THOMSON

"My left ear was still quite black and the pain in my right hand, I learnt later, was actually from a fracture ... The livid purple mark across my throat drew the most attention ... clearly showing a sock pattern that hung in there for days ... made by the old man holding my head down to the floor with his foot across my throat while he laid into me with a broken piece of horse harness. It was a hell of flogging and the smell of his feet in his stinking socks will haunt me forever. In fact, the 'foot-on-the-throat-hold' was one of his preferred methods. Barry, who was just one year older than I, having turned eight only the week before, had also just experienced one of his worst floggings ever and the sock-mark imprinted on his throat was semi-permanent."

Such was the horror of the childhood of that good, keen man Barry Crump, as shared and now told by his brother Colin. It could scarcely be worse, and this book sustains the horror right through: the beatings that left one or other sibling trembling beneath the porch for days on end; the beatings of their mother; the looking-the-other-way of their extended family; the police's refusal to do anything, (these were the days when a man's home was his castle, remember), instead returning Colin and Barry to their father after a brave attempt to find "child welfare".

As Colin says of their older brother Bill, who possibly suffered even more violence than the other two, "While no excuses are made on his behalf for any of the faults and failings that plagued his life as a husband and father - as with Barry - when you are aware of the treatment these men received in their earliest and most vulnerable years, what else can you expect?"

Humane and moving, and quite an insight into New Zealand farming life of the 1940s and 1950s.

Penguin
$34.95