MA, HE SOLD ME FOR A FEW

A Memoir of Dublin in the 1950s

Martha Long

When young Martha Long’s feckless mother hooks

up with 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 seven or eight) are often the only

thing keeping food on the table. Jackser is a master

of paranoid anger and outbursts, keeping the children in an unheated

tenement, unable to go to school, ready prey to his unpredictable rages.

more …

When young Martha Long’s feckless mother hooks

up with 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 seven or eight) are often the only

thing keeping food on the table. Jackser is a master

of paranoid anger and outbursts, keeping the children in an unheated

tenement, unable to go to school, ready prey to 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 her 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. They return to the other children and to Dublin, where

daily life is an ordeal once again. And yet there are prized cartoon magazines,

the occasional hidden penny to buy the children sweets, glimpses of loving

family life in other houses, and Martha’s hope that she will soon be old

enough to make her own way.

less …
  • Seven Stories Press
  • Paperback
  • September 2012
  • 496 Pages
  • 9781609805036

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About Martha Long

Martha Long was born in the 1950s in Dublin,

Ireland, where she still lives today. A natural-born storyteller with virtually

no formal education, she is the author of seven “Ma” books, all of which

have been bestsellers in Ireland. She calls herself a “middle-aged matron”

and has successfully reared three children.

Praise

“Reading this startling testament to one child’s valiant attempts to live until

the age of sixteen is a worthy reminder that we can do better as adults if we

turn to embrace the children who are suffering, anywhere on earth…”—Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple

Discussion Questions

Clearly, Sally and Jacker have something short of an

ideal relationship. And yet they stay together. Sally even

returns from England after escaping to get away from

Jackser, and immediately takes up with him again. Why?

What is it that, in spite of the many obvious problems in

their relationship, keeps the two together?

Early in the book, Martha’s aunt Nelly and cousin Barney give shelter

to Sally and Martha. The arrangement is far from ideal, but in many

ways superior to Martha’s later life with Jackser. And yet, Nelly and

Barney quickly recede into the past and are hardly mentioned later in

the book. When they are mentioned, it is quite fondly (“Me heart is

jerkin at the thought of them times”). So why do they disappear?

One of the book’s most heart-stopping scenes comes when Jackser

brutalizes Sally and then dangles her infant son over a staircase,

threatening to kill him as “another man’s leavins.” At other times,

however, while he is never tender-hearted, Jackser does accept some

responsibility for the children and in his own way attempts to help

raise them. How does Jackser seem to understand his own role in

Martha’s family?

Ma, He Sold Me For a Few Cigarettes is the first book in a series of

seven, the first four of which are now available in North America.

Based on what we know about young Martha and her world so far,

what predictions do you have for Martha’s future as it will be described

in subsequent volumes?

Young Martha is subjected to cruelty beyond what many of us can

easily imagine or might be able to handle. And yet Martha, just a girl

with little beside her indomitable spirit to prop her up, survives this

volume and its six sequels, to become the Martha Long who authored

these books. What is it about young Martha that enables her to

withstand so much? How does she survive and even thrive amid all the

suffering she’s endured?