Marianne Leone’s Ma is in many senses a larger-than-life character, one who might be capable, even from the afterlife, of shattering expectations. Born on a farm in Italy, Linda finds her way to the United States under dark circumstances, having escaped a forced marriage to a much older man, and marries a good Italian boy. She never has full command of English, especially when questioned by authorities, and when she is suddenly widowed with three young children, she has few options. To her daughter’s horror and misery, she becomes the school lunch lady.
Ma Speaks Up is a record of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, with the wrong family, in the wrong religion. Though Marianne’s girlhood is flooded with shame, it’s equally packed with adventure, love, great cooking, and, above all, humor. The extremely premature birth of Marianne’s beloved son, Jesse, bonds mother and daughter in ways she couldn’t have imagined. The stories she tells will speak to anyone who has struggled with outsider status in any form and, of course, to mothers and their blemished, cherished girls.
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“I can think of few writers, alive or dead, who can make us laugh out loud in one sentence only to wipe the tears off our cheeks in the next. Marianne Leone achieves this brilliantly in this enduring love song to her Italian mother, illuminating themes as wide ranging as social class, immigrant life, the Catholic Church, the agony of adolescence, marital and maternal and paternal love, and far more. And like all of the best memoirs, Ma Speaks Up carries us back to the fragmented and sometimes elusive beauty of our own lives. This is an exquisitely rendered book by an immensely gifted writer, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.”—Andre Dubus III
“In this entertaining and moving memoir, Marianne Leone has crafted an indelible portrait of her immigrant mother. Like her daughter, Ma is a formidable person—salty, tough-minded, funny, and full of unexpected wisdom.”—Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers
“Equal parts funny, brash, poignant, insightful, sarcastic, joyful, hopeful, and tender, this book will make you laugh and cry. It will make you hungry for Ma’s lentil soup. It will make you want to hug your own mother and Marianne and Ma.”—Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle
“I read with enormous pleasure Marianne Leone’s book about her mother, Linda, envying the richness and mystery of the family history, at times frightening, infuriating, but also very funny. I finished it in one sitting. Thank you, Marianne Leone, for letting me live with you and your mother. I loved every moment, every word.”—Abigail Thomas, author of A Three Dog Life
“By turns tender and trenchant, this is an indispensable mother-daughter story, a blisteringly honest account of the thorns and brambles that divided an immigrant Italian mama from her talented, truculent actress daughter. Written with wit and verve, Marianne Leone’s memoir brings her Ma back to full, vivid life in what becomes, in the end, a belated love poem to this enraging, engaging, passionate spitfire of a woman.”—Geraldine Brooks