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ROCK ME GENTLY by Judith Kelly

ROCK ME GENTLY

A Memoir of a Convent Childhood

By Judith Kelly

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7475-8714-9
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK/Trafalgar

A hotly disputed, would-be-tear-jerking memoir, updated with a mea culpa.

In 1951, Kelley’s widowed mother was forced to leave her eight-year-old, half-Jewish daughter in the care of Catholic nuns, portrayed here as sadistic cartoons. “Don’t think that just because you’re children you can’t fall down dead at any moment,” one of them is shown telling her wide-eyed young charges. “You’ll just feel a pinprick and then you’ll be gone.” Such pronouncements are hardly uncommon in Kelly’s tediously macabre description of a tormented childhood. She extensively catalogues the physical and psychological cruelties she and her peers suffered at the hands of the nuns, interspersing flash-forwards to her attempts to make a home for herself on an Israeli kibbutz in 1972. Culminating in the drowning of Kelly’s angelic friend Frances, the memoir drags readers through a long, aggrieved account filled with one-dimensional juvenile heroes and fiendish adult villains straight out of Dickens and 101 Dalmatians, though less cleverly depicted. The more interesting material in this revised version is the defense Kelly mounts against charges of plagiarism and fabrication that surfaced after the original text became a U.K. bestseller in 2005. This U.S. edition does not contain the passages lifted wholesale from books like Jane Eyre, Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and Antonia White’s Frost in May, but it reprints newspaper articles detailing plagiarism the author insists was accidental, as well as letters from other orphans attesting to the veracity of her story. The apologetic introduction, which seeks to explain how a woman still grieving over her childhood found comfort and meaning in the works of more talented writers, offers Kelly’s truest and most moving prose.

Further evidence that harrowing experiences do not necessarily make great art.