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Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoirby Susanne Antonetta
Thursday, March 20, 2014 07:30 PM
Powell's Books on Hawthorne, Portland, OR
In Make Me a Mother (W. W. Norton), acclaimed memoirist Susanne Antonetta adopts an infant from Seoul, South Korea. After meeting their six-month-old son, Jin, at the airport, Antonetta and her husband learn lessons common to all parents: the lack of sleep and the worry and joy of loving a child. They also learn lessons particular to their own family: not just how another being can take over your life but how to let an entire culture in and the tricky steps required to navigate race in America.
Synopses & Reviews
For readers of A Civil Action and Silent Spring, comes Body Toxic, a harrowing story of a family, a body, and a place — among the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey, in one of the most environmentally contaminated counties in the country.
Susanne Antonetta's family were immigrants from Italy on one side and Barbados on the other. They tried to realize the American dream by building a summer escape in the boglands of New Jersey, a place where the rural and industrial collide. They picked gooseberries along the chain-link fence of Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant, which ultimately released more radiation than Three Mile Island. They rowed dinghies along creeks contaminated with drums of toxic waste dumped illegally by various chemical companies. At the time, the young Antonetta and her cousins were obsessed with the threat of nuclear war, oblivious to what was going on around them.
At first local officials began to warn people about their wells. Eventually, parents were asked to donate their children's baby teeth to be tested for radiation. One by one, Antonetta's family discovered they had an array of health problems, and that they were part of a larger pattern of health problems.
Body Toxic merges the personal and familial with the historical, political, and environmental, creating a work that is intensely intimate and starkly political. Brave, harrowing, beautifully written, Antonetta's memoir explores an American family in the midst of the wreckage of the American dream.
"We are supposed to stay silent. About the madness running in our bloodlines, the revolt going on in our bodies, the cancers raining down around us. About the poisoned landscape that is now America. Susanne Antonetta laces all these demons together with words that sing a terrible and beautiful song. I don't know exactly how she does it, but she sure as hell does. And we all know she is right. Know it in our bones. Know it as we wail over our lost ones. This is a report from the flesh instead of the numbing statistics. This is our neighborhood written in blood." Charles Bowden
"Bittersweet and spiked with startlingly poetic descriptions, Antonetta's compelling blend of family history and musings on crimes against nature in the nuclear age opens a new chapter in the literature of place and offers a fresh and poignant look at the old story of inheritance." Booklist (starred review)
"Bittersweet and spiked with startlingly poetic descriptions, Antonetta's compelling blend of family history and musings on crimes against nature in the nuclear age opens a new chapter in the literature of place and offers a fresh and poignant look at the old story of inheritance." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"When environmentalists are ignored it's usually because what they have to say is too complex, to abstract, and far too frightening. With this lyrical and precisely written memoir, Antonetta has taken the stuff of science gone rabid nuclear reactors endlessly on the brink, cancer clusters, mercury in groundwater plumes, the immortality of radioactive waste and by weaving in family history, has personalized it in the most astonishing way. In the end, Antonetta presents the reader with something more convincing and frightening and far more heartbreaking than any EPA report." Rosina Lippi, author o Homestead, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award
Book News Annotation:
Poet Antonette expands her award winning essay "Elizabeth" into a memoir about growing up in a part of New Jersey that turned out to be one of worst polluted areas in the country. Her story is also that of a second-generation immigrant, her mother being from Italy and her father from Barbados. Earlier versions of some of the chapters have appeared in magazines.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The author's family tried to realize the American dream with a summer escape where the rural and industrial collide. But the land was contaminated and made them all ill. "Body Toxic" merges the personal and familial with the historical, political, and environmental.
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