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Review: Ma, He Sold Me For A Few Cigarettes by Martha Long

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 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. One can't help but cheer on this mischievous, quick-witted, and persistent little girl who has captured hearts across Europe.

For a book that was not intended to be published, I’m glad that it was. It gives a voice to those who have none especially of a child. So many times their voices go unheard especially when there is no one they feel they can go to or will listen. This book written from the voice and perspective of a child was the most honest and heart breaking recollection of a life I have ever read. 

If you are a mother and read this book, I hope it inspires you to become a better one. Every child deserves a life from a mother who will care and nurture them. There are no words to describe the injustice of a life when a child gets robbed of being able to experience a childhood. Martha’s story recounts her early life to her beginning teens. Her life plagued by a mother who made poor decisions that resulted in their poverty, neglect, and abuse that had devastating effects on her life that made her experience things no one should ever have to endure. 

Don’t get discouraged by the length. Take your time if you have to but the depth of the story is worth it. It’s unlike any memoir book that you will probably read. The way she chronicled her life is well written from the perspective of details and how the story progresses. 

What truly inspired me from her story was her intuitive fortitude to survive based upon no positive guidance or education through the abuse and pain to get a chance to live a life that was so innocently taken. As you read the pages, the depths of her pain was great but her will to survive to become better just really amazed me.  Everyone has a story but there are some that need to be heard, this is one of them. 

Reviewed by Michelle Bowles

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