On Tuesday February 26th, Anjuli Brekke hosted this Pledge Drive edition of A Public Affair. Cynthia Lin helped bring in pledges throughout the program. During the hour, they brought listeners the harrowing story of memoirist Martha Long’s childhood. It took decades for Martha to bring herself to look back at the girl she was growing up in 1950’s Dublin. But that girl was, as Martha writes, “waiting for her chance to burst back into life and give voice to the pain she endured.” Her story has poured out in several volumes, each a best seller in Ireland and England. They discussed the first book in the series, “Ma, he sold me for a few Cigarettes.” The story tells the heartbreaking reality of a girl trying to survive in seemingly impossible conditions. The daughter of a teenage mother in the slums of Dublin, Martha used her humor, wit and courage to get her through neglect and abuse, both at home and in society.
“When Martha Long’s feckless mother hooks up with the Jackser (“that bandy aul bastard”), and starts having more babies, the abuse and poverty in the house grow more acute. Martha is regularly sent out to beg and more often steal, and her wiles (as a child of 7, 8) are often the only thing keeping food on the table. Jackser is a master of paranoid anger and outburst, keeping the children in an unheated tenement, unable to go to school, at the ready for his unpredictable rages. Then Martha is sent by Jackser to a man he knows in exchange for the price of a few cigarettes. She is nine. She is filthy, lice-ridden, outcast. Martha and Ma escape to England, but for an itinerant Irishwoman finding work in late 1950s England is a near impossibility.
Martha treasures the time alone with her mother, but amazingly Ma pines for Jackser and they eventually return to Dublin and the other children. And yet there are prized cartoon magazines, the occasional hidden penny to buy the children sweets, the glimpse of loving family life in other houses, and Martha’s hope that she will soon be old enough to make her own way.
Virtually uneducated, Martha Long is natural-born storyteller. One can’t help but cheer on this mischievous, quick-witted, and persistent little girl who has captured hearts across Europe.”
-Seven Stories Press, 2012
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