An intense victimization saga.

Beneath My Smile

SEARCHING FOR LOVE, PEACE AND HAPPINESS

A Trinidad-born woman, now a U.S.–based nurse, describes her traumatic childhood and tumultuous adult experiences in this debut memoir.

At age 3, Bella was left with her father, a Trinidad-based funeral home operator, when her mother fled to the U.S. with Bella’s sister. After a frantic period of “international kidnapping,” Bella and her sister spent the bulk of their childhood back in Trinidad with their father and his girlfriend/eventual wife, whom Bella dubbed “El Diabla Puta” (“The Devil Whore”). While Bella endured ongoing abuse from this pair (beatings, lack of food, etc.), her father’s half brother sexually molested her. Although Bella and her sister returned to their mother as teenagers, the damage was done. Bella got pregnant, married young, and spent her adult life “running and running as fast as I could from all my doubts, fears, and my past filled with a multitude of poor choices right at my heels.” While she eventually earned a nursing degree that allowed her to support herself (and flee stalking and deadbeat lovers), she also made “a career out of being pregnant just when I was ready to bail out of a bad relationship” and bore four children, all with different, problematic fathers. But by memoir’s end, Bella “can see the strength that I possess. I don’t know what’s in God’s divine plan for me, but I will continue to be the best I can be while enjoying life to the fullest without any more regrets.” The author has penned an initially gripping, then ultimately unrelenting tale of endless turmoil. While she makes note of “how much I have grown,” there is more focus, indeed overload, in this narrative on her destructive patterns repeating themselves, with one of her final chapters, for example, detailing her return to a cheating lover. She is also surprisingly detached about the travails and imprisonment of her daughter, noting, “She and I had this odd disconnect from the very beginning.” Still, this is certainly a striking snapshot of the vicious, damaging cycles that can arise from childhood trauma.

An intense victimization saga.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-8266-3

Page Count: 180

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2016

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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