While offering strong elements, this recollection of surviving violence and reconciling with one’s past lacks a fully...

Other Voices

Blenman tells of persevering through a childhood of abuse to lead a Christian life in this debut memoir.

Born to a poor family in rural Barbados, Blenman endured a grueling childhood. While he was instilled early on with respect for his elders and a strong work ethic, he was also the subject of multiple forms of abuse. In addition to the corporal punishment he suffered at the hands of his short-tempered parents (his father once killed the family dog for eating from Blenman’s dinner bowl), the author was also the victim of sexual abuse from two of his sisters. Throughout his schooling, he was often beaten with a strap based on the arbitrary determinations of his teachers. In addition to documenting his abuse and the ways in which it made his life more difficult, Blenman seeks to record those people who influenced his life in a more positive way, the eponymous “other voices” whose words and advice have remained with him over the course of his life. There was Mammy, the older woman down the road who gave him sweetbreads and told him not to curse. There was Mr. Messiah, a teacher whose encouragement led to Blenman’s grades improving and ultimately winning him a scholarship. Blenman eventually moved to Canada to attend college and remains there still. While he continued to suffer trials in his adult life, he has weathered them using the lessons of his childhood. He credits his subsequent success, in part, to responding to his circumstances “in a behavioural manner that brings healing to self.” The author’s prose is capable, if not always gripping. The book is divided into short chapters that hew closely to Blenman’s memory, but they rarely provide the details that would help make the Barbados of his story come across with greater intensity. The other characters, particularly his family members, could have used a bit more exploration: they loom enigmatically at the edges of his account but never feel fully realized. The raw material of the memoir is robust, but the way it is presented does not ensure it will linger long in the reader’s mind.

While offering strong elements, this recollection of surviving violence and reconciling with one’s past lacks a fully developed narrative.

Pub Date: March 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-8549-7

Page Count: 210

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2016

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


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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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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