Beyond the Book: Background information when reading What I Was

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

What I Was

by Meg Rosoff

What I Was by Meg Rosoff X
What I Was by Meg Rosoff
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2008, 224 pages
    Jan 2009, 224 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

Useful to Know

If you read interviews and blogs about Meg Rosoff you may find references to a book called The Dark Ages. This was the title that she first gave to her story about H and Finn, but which she later renamed What I Was.

What I Was was published as a young adult title in the UK in summer 2007, but was positioned as a book for adults in the USA - an interesting situation for an author who, according to her blog, has mixed feelings about being identified as a writer of "cross-over" novels.

Although the exact location of St Oswald's school is not, as far as we recollect, mentioned in the book, from reading Rosoff's blog entries we surmise that it is close to Dunwich in Suffolk. Suffolk is located in the southern part of East Anglia, a low-lying peninsula of eastern England (map), which was one of the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, named for the Angles of northern Germany who settled it around the 5th century. Sometime around the 11th century, Suffolk became a separate 'shire'*, but much of the area consisted of marshland and bogs (known as fens) until the 17th century when the rich alluvial land was converted into farmland (mainly arable) by systematically draining the area via drains and river diversions.

The lost city in the sea that Finn tells H about does exist, although the ravages of time have left little to be seen. According to the Dunwich website, the small village seen today was once a thriving city, with an important boat building industry and harbor, home to an impressive fleet of royal ships. However, the city was built close to cliffs made of sand and gravel that were subject to constant 'soil creep'. On the 14th January 1328 disaster struck. A hurricane drove the sea against the spit of land, shifting the shingle and effectively blocking the entrance to Dunwich harbor. The inhabitants worked hard to clear the entrance but without success, and the ship traffic moved permanently elsewhere. By the end of the 18th century, over 400 houses, 2 churches, as well as shops and windmills, had been lost to the sea.

By the middle of the 18th century, the town was effectively abandoned. By the time of the 1832 Reform Act, which abolished "rotten boroughs" like Dunwich, there were just 8 residents left in the constituency, represented in the British Parliament by two MPs!

*Shires were administrative districts created by the Anglo-Saxons, hence the many English counties ending with shire, Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Wiltshire etc. The shires were governed by shire reeves (a serf elected by the other serfs to supervise the lands for a local lord). Shire reeves became known simply as sheriffs.

Article by Lucia Silva

This article was originally published in January 2008, and has been updated for the January 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Gateway to the Moon
    Gateway to the Moon
    by Mary Morris
    Miguel Torres is a teenager living in Entrada de la Luna, a poverty-stricken dot on the New Mexico ...
  • Book Jacket: New World, Inc.
    New World, Inc.
    by Simon Targett, John Butman
    When we think about the founding of America, we typically envision Pilgrims in black garb and boxy ...
  • Book Jacket: New World, Inc.
    New World, Inc.
    by Simon Targett, John Butman
    When we think about the founding of America, we typically envision Pilgrims in black garb and boxy ...
  • Book Jacket: The Ensemble
    The Ensemble
    by Aja Gabel
    In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd

A captivating thriller-at-sea set in Spanish colonial Havana in the 1860s.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Anatomy of a Miracle
    by Jonathan Miles

    A stunning novel that offers an exploration of faith, science and the meaning of life.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Comedown

The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin

A blistering dark comedy that explores delineating lines of race, class, religion, and time.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.