An impoverished girl in Portugal endures a hellish childhood in this moving autobiography.
Talk about being born under a cloud–the author was conceived when her mother Angelina, a housemaid in a tiny Portuguese village, was raped by an employer. Her prospects ruined, Angelina abandons Maria to her parents’ care. On her rare visits, she can barely bring herself to acknowledge her daughter’s existence. Maria’s first eight years with her doting grandparents seem idyllic, but when her grandmother dies she goes to live with Angelina and her new family. There Angelina’s resentment at the daughter who embodies her trauma and shame flares into outright hatred. Maria is ignored or treated like a slave, beaten for the slightest mistake, poked and scalded and fed rotten leftovers while Angelina and her common-law husband and their children feast on fresh food. Her terror and loneliness are heartbreaking, but she never loses her spirit. Through all the abuse she vows to get an education and find a way out of her miserable straits. The drama subsides a bit after Maria, seizing every break she can get, emigrates to Canada. She drifts through jobs and relationships and finally settles into a contented marriage, but her longing to discover her father and come to terms with her mother persists. Trautman’s lightly fictionalized account of her youth is vivid and gripping. Her enchanting portrait of life in her grandparents’ village sets up a shocking contrast with the grim and gritty confines of her mother’s Lisbon apartment. Angelina is a memorable character–at times she’s almost a fairy-tale ogress, but readers feel the sense of humiliation and dispossession that fuels her rage at her flesh and blood. The author’s luminous prose tells this story with immediacy and pathos.
A searing memoir of family ties that bind all too cruelly.