By Grace Banta
First Edition 2010, Second Edition 2015
ISBN 13: 978-1-5194-3744-0
Trade paperback size, 221 pages
Review by Carolyn Leonard, of Graciela, No One’s Child
I met the author Grace Banta and her husband Bob in Kentucky this summer. Bob lovingly introduced his wife and spoke proudly of her book. I bought it and read it immediately. I couldn’t lay it down.
This haunting memoir reminds me of the runaway best-seller and Pulitzer Prize winner Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. He said: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth your while.” So says McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn of Irish immigrant parents. Subsequently, the family returned to Limerick, and life was even worse.
Graciela, No One’s Child, is an account of the author’s life, which also began in Brooklyn and her illegal abduction to Mexico as an infant. The author reveals the brutal yet poignant picture of the severe poverty and abandonment she endured in her childhood. She was forced to live in slave-like conditions, half-starved, barefoot year-round, dressed in rags and denied an education. She grew up without love and no one seemed to care about her at all.
Her female captor, Matilde, worked as a prostitute and would make Graciela sit outside the door or chain her to a tree in the yard until the male companion left. The child was left on her own to find the basics, like food or a safe place to stay. Most of the time Matilde could not even offer shelter in a one-room shack with dirt floor. They slept wherever they were. Matilde had an explosive temper and often beat Graciela.
Matilde placed Graciela in a Catholic orphanage in Veracruz at the age of five and never came to visit her for three years. Grace remembers the orphanage as a good place where her basic needs were met and life had a sense of order. Just when the Mother Superior had found a well-to-do loving family in Mexico City who wanted to adopt Graciela, Matilde reappeared with empty promises of a better life for the child.
Graciela’s amazing recovery from this situation and her subsequent accomplishment will inspire everyone who cheers a rags to riches story.