The Big Yank: Memoir of a Boy Growing Up Irish
by J. P. Sexton
Paddy Publications

"One thing I could never quite fathom was why parents needed to beat you."

The modern classic, The Great Santini, by Pat Conroy has nothing on this book. Sexton documents the horrors of his home life in the USA and Ireland and writes about his odyssey as skillfully as any other professional writer could have described it. Sexton's dad is the Big Yank, thereby named because he was raised in New York but moved back to his roots in Ireland. The Big Yank was physically large and beyond cruel. Sexton writes sardonically, "To say that mine were not the most warm-hearted of parents would have been like saying Hitler wasn't such a great Humanitarian...." Sexton Sr. was abusive emotionally and physically toward his children, but, like any person, he was multi-dimensional, and the author captures that essence perfectly: "Despite his erratic, dysfunctional and maniacal behavior, my father had a streak in him that allowed him to deeply believe in the people of Ireland."

Writers have to write, and this is obviously the case with Sexton. But his story is not just cathartic writing. Well worth the telling and well worth the reading, Sexton candidly depicts his childhood. "You haven't been stomped on 'till you've been kicked by my old fella, I muttered in a low, menacing voice...I actually grinned with sadistic pride at how violent my family life could be." Stark, honest and riveting, the book leaves readers wondering how toughened and damaged the author eventually grows up to be. Does a completely dysfunctional and abusive upbringing guarantee one a broken and jaded adulthood? In the end, Sexton's paternal, if not plain humanitarian, instincts win the day: "As I held my little Sandra, I could not begin to contemplate how a grown man could inflict pain and suffering on an innocent little child."

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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