Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes ~ A Book Review

Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes Book cover
This book came into my hands quite by accident!  We (the grandpa and I) had been babysitting our lovely little ones for the weekend.  My son an avid reader left for the weekend with the heads-up that there was a pile of books on his desk and to help myself.

Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes, by Martha Long would not have been a book that I would have purchased for myself. I am more of a mystery book, suspense book reader.  But the title of this particular book intrigued me.  It is an autobiography, one that is very difficult to read, both for the content and the language idioms it is written in.

The Authors note inside the front cover sealed the deal.  She writes, "This is a true story of my early childhood.  Originally, I did not write it for publication.  Instead, my intention was to rid myself  of the voice of the little girl I had once been."

So what made me pick up this book from the stack of many others?

All I can say is I picked it up, read the Acknowledgements and moved onto the Author's Note.  It was that note quoted above that sealed the deal.  I knew I was going to read it and see where it took me.

Written in the vernacular language of the Irish slums, it really is hard to get used to the cadence of the writing. But and this is a big BUT, it is a necessary evil along with all the swearing and blunt realities of this child's world.

An In-depth Look at "Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes" 

There are parts of this book that will make you laugh and parts that will make you cry. The realities are something that we (middle-class people) would have a hard time wrapping our heads around.  What is evident is the character strength of this young girl.  Her mother (I give her that title only because she bore Martha) is a young girl herself, who hasn't fully developed her own character or had much opportunity to develop her mind.  She is at the whim of any man who will pay her some attention.  She is a teen with a baby.  Her family can't help her and she can't seem to help herself.  Her own self-worth seems to be wrapped up and dependent on having a man in her life.  Any man will do, she's not fussy. Before long she has two children and hooks up with yet another man, who preys on her and her children.   She finds herself pregnant again, Martha is only 5 years old and already taking care of her brother and more. "Jackster" the "father-figure" and I use that term very loosely too, beats up on the mom and Martha.  He is a drunkard, down on his "luck" and totally abusive when life doesn't go according to his plan.

This story is one that will leave you shaking your head at the brutality and yet admiring the strength of character in this little girl. Things go from bad to worse, she's angry with God, she's angry with her mom, she's angry with Jackster.  She is very angry at the whole world.  Yet through all this anger, she comes to be the strongest one.  She sees with eyes that are so much more mature than her years.

This book is a reality I had known nothing about and had a hard time understanding.  I was fortunate to grow up in a country that made it easy for my parents to look after us.  There were jobs and work for anyone who wanted to earn their way through life. There was also a moral compass, there were lines that would not be crossed.  Not so much in Martha's life, with poverty and no drive to make life better, the moral compass goes out the window.  Anything and everything in life is negotiable, for a few slices of bread or a few cigarettes.

So many people today, are still in the midst of the same downward spiral of  what life must have been like for Martha in Ireland.  There are those in places that are being destroyed by factions that want power over the people at any cost.  This book made me pause and think about all the young girls in the world. The girls in Africa and India, where they are married at 7 or 8 years of age.  They will endure the same bonds that held Martha captive for so long. We are not a better world today than the world Martha lived in back in the 50's.

slum city - run down, abandoned apartments
"Slum City" Picture courtesy of

At the end of the day,

I'm really glad that this book grabbed my attention.  It is an emotional rollercoaster ride that will take you out of your comfort zone many times.  Martha Long in trying to get that little girl out of her mind, has opened up a window to a world that I never knew existed.  For that,  I would like to thank her.  I'm sure that it was not an easy book to write and I pray that she has found some peace.  

This book gave me reasons to be Thankful for where I live, for food, friends, and family that protect and hold me dear. It makes me stop and realize that not everyone is so blessed and that I have every need to be totally Thankful for all the blessings I have in my life.

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. Intriguing book review, Grammie O.

    1. It is an intriguing book Susan, but you really need a strong stomach to get through parts of it. I do believe that it is a "Must Read" for everyone. It has opened my eyes to many things that I had no idea happened and are happening in our world today. It is timeless and important!

  2. There was much more abuse of little girls back in the 50's than most realize and it probably didn't matter which country she lived in. People didn't talk about it and little girls were not encouraged to tell anyone what was happening to them. In many cases (and I know this from my own experience) if the little girl tried to tell she was called a liar and nothing was done. Trusting adults was difficult for many a young girl (especially those who were poor) because she was constantly let down by them. It either breaks you beyond repair or you become stronger from the experiences. This sounds like a book that is a good resource for people to know better what signs to look for when a child is being abused, perhaps better know questions to ask and most of all listen to her when she tries to tell you that bad things are happening to her.

    1. I agree with every word you have written Beverly. Girls all over the world are in a precarious position and telling another adult what is happening isn't sometimes the best answer. Much abuse gets swept under the rug and the perpetrators never see the consequences of their actions on young lives. You are right, either their spirit is broken completely or they rise and become stronger for all the torture they have endured. We do live in a world where many of our young girls are haunted by memories that should never have been a part of their lives. Hopefully people that need to read this book, will!

  3. Just reading your book review is enough for me to know that my heart would break for this child. We live in an evil world where things we just don't see happening are going on in even our neighbors lives. This book will, no doubt, make me thankful that neither I nor our children have had those horrific experiences. I wish I could explain why any child who have to endure such evil. No child deserves such cruel treatment.

    1. Yes Cynthia, it certainly would break your heart. Mine was in pieces many times while reading this book. The reality that many children live, makes me shudder. Understanding and kindness for those whose lives are in shambles because of such abuse, should be paramount in helping them to heal. We will never know the truth about many peoples circumstances, abuse is not readily recognized many times. Children especially don't have a whole lot of places to go to for help, nor do they know to reach out for help either. It's a sad reality in many children's lives.

  4. I can see why you were drawn to this book, Olivia. Stories about abused children are heartbreaking, but it's energizing to read one where the child triumphed over circumstances that often devastate many.

    1. I do believe Miss Elf, that after a lifetime of this kind of abuse, the body, mind and spirit need to be healed. In this case, Martha does seem to come to a point of rising above the ashes of her life. Remember though this book was written in 2007, if she were born in the mid 40's, she is now in her 60's. That is a long time to live with the nightmares, until you can rise above them! Still it does give us hope.

  5. I live in Ireland so I have heard and read quite a bit about the poverty in the 40's up through the 70's here and what young girls have endured because of it. It truly is heart breaking. This is still not a rich country by any means. My friends that have visited me here are shocked by many things and it seems to be like the USA was in the 1950's NOW, so they still have a long way to go as far as the amenities we are used to. But the Irish are indomitable! I do feel so awful when I read what some of the poor children here have gone through, girls and boys too. At least they have counselors here now.

  6. I don't believe my stomach is strong enough to read this, but it was an excellent review. Even you review made me thank god again for the parents and extended family He gave me. I grew up knowing I was loved. I never realize back then how many children grew up believing their parents didn't love them , and they may have ben right. My daughter Sarah's birth parents neglected and abused her, and she was never able to get past it. Her spirit was broken but her will was strong. I'm glad Martha's will to survive was stronger that Sarah's.

  7. Olivia, I can understand, after reading this review why this book would be so difficult to read and relate to, however, if nothing else at all, like you said, it gives a look into a world so dramatically different than our own, and in the end that can only help us understand each better as human beings temporarily sharing this planet for a short while. I really want to read this now thanks to your review.


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