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When Martha Long’s feckless mother hooks up with the Jackser (“that bandy aul bastard”), and starts having more babies, the abuse and poverty in the house grow more acute. Martha is regularly sent out to beg and more often steal, and her wiles (as a child of 7, 8) are often the only thing keeping food on the table. Jackser is a master of paranoid anger and outburst, keeping the children in an unheated tenement, unable to go to school, at the ready for his unpredictable rages. Then Martha is sent by Jackser to a man he knows in exchange for the price of a few cigarettes. She is nine. She is a filthy, lice-ridden outcast. Martha and Ma escape to England, but for an itinerant Irishwoman finding work in late 1950s England is a near impossibility. Martha treasures the time alone with her mother, but amazingly Ma pines for Jackser and they eventually return to Dublin and the other children. And yet there are prized cartoon magazines, the occasional hidden penny to buy the children sweets, the glimpse of loving family life in other houses, and Martha’s hope that she will soon be old enough to make her own way.
Virtually uneducated, Martha Long is natural-born storyteller. Written in the vernacular of the day, the reader is tempted to speak like Martha for the rest of a day (and don’t let me hear yer woman roarin’ bout it neither). One can’t help but cheer on this mischievous, quick-witted, and persistent little girl who has captured hearts across Europe.
“The destruction of our common humanity through the manipulation of imposed poverty, misogyny, alcoholism and drug abuse, is a major source of our misery, world-wide; and has been for a long time. Reading this startling testament to one child’s valiant attempts to live until the age of sixteen (four years to go!) is a worthy reminder that we can do better as adults if we turn to embrace the children who are suffering, anywhere on earth, who are coming toward us, their numbers increasing daily, for help.”–Alice Walker
“Long chronicles her life from ages three to 11, letting the child she once was ‘tell the story in her own voice:’ a dynamic, colorful Irish dialect. Born to a destitute teenage mother, Long endures shocking privation and abuse, particularly at the hands of her mother’s lascivious long-term boyfriend, who does indeed sell her for a few cigarettes. Trapped by her circumstances, Long must care for a growing brood of siblings, and though barely educated she finds ingenious ways to provide for her family…Her tale can be repetitive, but the repetition aptly mirrors the punishing cycle of poverty. Not for the faint of heart, Long’s story is a gritty, grueling, and heartbreaking testament to one girl’s unbreakable spirit.” — Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Coming-of-age hardships skillfully recounted by way of the colloquial Irish tongue.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Stands head and shoulders above everything else in the category . . . a remarkable personal and literary achievement for the author and an unforgettable experience for the reader.’–Irish Independent ‘
“[Long’s] story is unique in its rawness and its honesty. Entirely self-educated, she narrates her own life in a way which is both riveting and moving.”–Greenock Telegraph
“A tale of strength, bravery and sheer determination of not letting life beat you.”–Irish Post
“An ultimately uplifting story which salutes the strength of the human spirit.”–Irish World
“This is a searing account of childhood survival. No more haunting memoir has been published this year.” - Charles R. Larson, Emeritus Professor of Literature, American University in Countepunch