This is a consumer review for the Caribbean Books Foundation http://www.caribbeanbooks.org/
And I am back with another review!
Despite being in isolation, I can’t say that I’ve found more time to read. I split my days between editing, doing website work, writing, and not much else. But I still need to get my monthly Caribbean book selection out so after browsing through the Caribbean Books Foundation website I chose…
Molding My Destiny by Patrice M. Foster is an autobiography. I believe this is the first time I am reviewing an autobiography off of their site.
The author starts her story in Jamaica where she was born. Growing up poor in the Caribbean is by no means idyllic or a unique situation. Many of us still have happy memories of childhood despite our financial misfortunes. However, living under her father’s tyranny and witnessing the domestic abuse of her mother and brothers made her poverty much uglier and harder to bear.
Her life changes when her mother manages to ‘escape’ to the USA to work. The author and her siblings then find themselves separated into different homes where they are taken advantage of and basically mistreated in every way possible. Like this wasn’t Annie with kiddos singing in between mopping floors. It was just bad for them. Period.
And when their mother finally saves enough to send for them to be with her in the USA, when they think things are going to get better, it just gets worse. Because now they are not only impoverished but impoverished as strangers in a strange land, eventually resorting to living on the street and stealing food to survive.
Now it all eventually turns out well, or rather the author has reached a place where she has a good life and is trying to make peace with her own demons. It is heartening to know that it was not just a story and somewhere Patrice has survived all that she’s been through and is thriving. But then again, it is also disheartening to know that she went through all of that to begin with!
This book is heavy. If you are holed up in quarantine and feeling kinda down it is probably not the best selection to make right now. Or maybe it is. It surely reminded me that instead of being stuck at home I could be stuck out on the street in the middle of a storm with nowhere to go.
For me, just the thought that people, no, parents can forget their children like this is horrifying. I know that it happens, every day! Foster homes and orphanages are filled with children like this. But reading the intimate details of it makes you doubt the goodness of humanity. I mean, even animals know to favour and protect their young! The fact that so many people want to be parents but then refuse to be parents after the children are born should be a crime. It is by now, right? Like people are being jailed for this by now, right?
Otherwise, I always like to see the island the author is from represented accurately in the book. In this sense it was through the food. The author migrated to the USA in the 1970’s, and it was nice to hear about the type of food they ate back then, like ‘blue drawers‘ or ‘duckanoon‘. The author recalled eating it during the farewell party given to them by neighbours before they moved.
I find it so ironic that people in a neighbourhood wouldn’t band together to help support a family/children in need but will put together a huge celebration over them leaving for ‘better tidings’. There would be no reason for them to leave if they had the support of their community. Where was that goodwill when they were starving? Takes minding your own business to a whole other level.
Though the author and her siblings met unfortunate circumstances, Molding My Destiny is very much the story of the Caribbean emigrant parent/child. This is where the parents either lived abroad and supported their children by sending money, or the family moved abroad when the children were at a young age. The latter creates this disjointed perception of identity in the children. When they get older everyone sees them as from their motherland when they are in their adopted country, but when they go ‘home’ everyone there sees them as citizens of their adopted country because their speech and mannerisms are so different.
For the children who stay, they are what we call the ‘barrel generation’, as every few months they receive a box or a ‘barrel’ packed with essentials like clothes and dry food. People either saw them as lucky for getting so many new ‘gifts’ or unlucky for never having their parents around to truly fend for them. These were children that despite their ‘fortunate’ circumstances could be easily taken advantage of as Patrice and her siblings found to be true.
I suppose my parents were apart of Patrice’s parent’s generation as well since my oldest sibling was born in the 1970’s. They did receive the occasional package from friends abroad but somehow they managed to escape the allure of North America!
One of the reasons I’ve never considered living anywhere else was simply because I don’t really care for big cities. I’ve tried it. I hate it. I LIKE being in the country. Green is my vibe. Just the description of her first impression of New York made me squirm inwardly and not regret any of the times my mother refused to send me abroad as a child. And there were relatives that wanted me!
But my mother always insisted, and I understood why as I got older, that no child of hers would be at the mercy of a stranger, or even a family member, to take care of them. Even with the little we had, her children stayed with her. End of story.
I also loved the sayings at the beginning of each chapter as it really mirrored what the chapter was about. This one started chapter 10:
The book was a vivid retelling of entering a new world for the first time and the struggle of losing and finding oneself again and again.
Do I have any peeves about this book? Editing. It’s always editing! I’m an editor (in-training) I see these things, alright! Still, I don’t like to mention it, especially if it’s minor things because I want you to support the author. However, it is my duty to be as honest as possible. If it entails you spending your money on a purchase, I should be.
That being said, once they got to America the timelines became confusing. Sometimes years were listed but then I didn’t always know exactly what age the author was at the time. She would be 19 (years) on one page then 30 three pages down, then back to 1984 and I would find myself wondering where does 1984 fit between the ages 19 and 30?
Sometimes the author would blow through several years at once in a few pages, then come back to before a problem was resolved. Now nothing is wrong with going back and forth in time to tell a story if it enhances the telling of the story or makes it clearer. But it wasn’t always clear and I had to read over parts and jump back to chapters to get an idea of where in the timeline I was at. So there were pacing problems in the second half of the book and especially coming down to the end. Add to that lots of punctuation errors and missing words, and it was a little confusing to read at times.
Did I regret buying it? Absolutely not. I hope it’s revised soon and the errors are cleaned up because it is a wonderful story that needs to be told, and I thank the author for having the courage to tell it. I mean, I can only imagine, but I always wonder how family members take books like this.
But anyway! Please give Molding My Destiny by Patrice M. Foster a try! It’s an engaging autobiography of a child living in an abusive household, barely surviving foster care, and then having to survive on the streets. It is living proof that things can always get worse before they get better. I was very happy to see that the book ended triumphantly.
You can check the author’s website where you can find more of their work, contact information, social media, and catch up on what they’re doing next! Also, visit their book page on Caribbean Books to purchase it. Thanks for reading and see you next month for another review!
– N. Gomes, Caribbean Books Foundation
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