The Black Leather Satchel by Paula Czech

The Black Leather Satchel

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A memoir about overcoming abuse to find happiness and fulfillment. 

Czech relates her struggle to make peace with her painful childhood and to learn to accept emotional intimacy in her life. Her story begins when her mother flees with her boyfriend and the author after losing a custody battle with Czech’s father in Connecticut. The new family begins a life on the Ben Davis Farm in Vermont, where the author says that she was later subjected to horrifying sexual abuse by her stepfather. Fortunately, she says, several people helped her heal over the course of her life; she calls these people her “Angels.” The first and perhaps most important of these was Philippa Bassinger, the landlord of the Ben Davis Farm, who became something of a surrogate parent when she convinced Czech’s mother to allow the girl to leave home and attend first grade in Cooperstown, New York. Czech writes that other, later “Angels,” including neighbors and college professors, gave her the confidence and compassion to overcome other obstacles in life. Her decision to finally rebuff her stepfather at age 11 demonstrated remarkable strength. She ultimately severed all ties with him, but his influence lingered as she struggled with intimacy for years. Through counseling, she learned to open up and be more accepting, but her romantic relationships still proved difficult. Seeking stability, she found it where one might least expect it: she returned to the Ben Davis Farm, where she was abused for years, and became an active member of its community. As a piece of prose, this memoir occasionally flounders. For example, the titular black leather satchel, in which her mother kept family keepsakes, feels like a forced motif rather than an essential part of the story. Czech’s narration can sometimes feel like an indiscriminate recitation of facts, and readers will often wish for greater reflection. But the author’s unflinching, vivid depictions of her worst memories are a testament to her strength as a writer, and her ability to share her darkest moments with such honesty is formidable.

A moving story that will inspire fellow survivors everywhere.

Publisher: Seacoast Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


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