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Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir Hardcover – May 22, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press; First Printing edition (May 22, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582431167
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582431161
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,945,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Susanne Antonetta writes with a poet's precision about the almost unspeakable series of ills that have assaulted her body: cysts on her ovaries, a divided uterus, endometriosis, rampant thyroid tumors, a quadruplet pregnancy (no fertility drugs involved) that ended in miscarriage, and manic-depressive illness treated with the wrong drugs until she was in her 30s. There's not a trace of self-pity as she lists the toxic substances leaked into the air, ground, and water by the chemical company, nuclear power plant, and nuclear missile bunker near her family's summer home in Holly Park, New Jersey. She passes over the gruesome inappropriateness of that bucolic name just as she unblinkingly repeats the brutally frank comments of her relatives, who adored her brother and male cousin, had no interest in the four girl children, and excommunicated any family member who violated their rigid rules. "In the end, I'm grateful," she writes of her extended family. "They have given me the gift of clarity. They've released me. There may be nothing kinder you can do than withhold your love." Clarity is among the principal virtues of Antonetta's unusual work, aptly subtitled An Environmental Memoir. She makes general facts personally meaningful by intertwining a historical account of post-World War II America's love affair with heavy industry and its deadly by-products with the specific details of ailments suffered by herself and the other kids who ran down the streets after the DDT-spraying trucks and drank water "full of good iron, good lead, mercury, cadmium, tritium, alpha radiation, good benzenes, PCBs, chlordane, vinyl chloride, lime, mercury, good cyanide." Her scathing but matter-of-fact tone gives the author greater authority as a prophet of the whirlwind we are reaping from careless contamination of our natural resources. --Wendy Smith

From Booklist

"This is the story of a body," writes Antonetta, a body betrayed. As a child, Antonetta loved her family's modest summer home in the boggy coastal region of New Jersey's mysterious Pine Barrens. She and her relatives relished their well water and the fish and crabs they caught, blissfully unaware that the Ciba-Geigy chemical plant was spewing lead, mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and other poisons into the water supply, or that the flawed Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant routinely bathed them in radiation. The kids even ran after the trucks that dowsed them in clouds of DDT every week. Inevitably, Antonetta's paradise became infamous for its toxicity and high incidence of cancer, and she now revisits her childhood memories and girlhood diaries in an attempt to understand the life that made her infertile and turned her body into a veritable tumor factory. 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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Susanne Paola Antonetta's most recent book, Make Me a Mother, a memoir and study of adoption, was published by W.W. Norton. Awards for her poetry and prose include a New York Times Notable Book, an American Book Award, a Library Journal Best Science book of the year, a Lenore Marshall Award finalist, a Pushcart prize, and others. She is also coauthor of Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction. Her essays and poems have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Orion, Seneca Review and many anthologies, including Short Takes and Lyric Postmodernisms. She lives in Bellingham, Washington, with her husband and son. Her website is www.suzannepaola.com.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Fairbanksreader on October 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This memoir read like poetry and narrative. I was especially enthralled by the author's attempt to 'read her body like a novel', to understand herself from beginning to end, from inside to out, and then back again. She explores the impact of environment, genetics and family dynamics on self. She shows the classic outcome of shame, secrecy and silence as they collude to prevent one from learning about their history in context to their familily of origin, over time, and in relationship to the environment. This is truly a new genre by a writer who is gifted in insight and narrative and has great courage in exploring herself and sharing her insight with the reader. Thank you, Ms. Antonetta
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Marianne Johnson on June 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Written in a style both haunting and poetic, this book captured my attention immediately. Susanne Antonetta examines the environmental and political issues of radioactive waste, nuclear reactors and chemically poisoned water supplies, blended with excerpts from her memoirs as a child, growing up in New Jersey in the 1950's when silence and family secrets were sacrosanct.
Spending extraordinary summers as a child in a bungalow built by her grandfather, facing the small inlet of Barnegat Bay, the author blissfully picks berries and runs through wide open spaces, taking in the colors, sounds and smells of the area, oblivious to the horrific danger all around her. This book is so personal, so beautifully descriptive and so painfully honest, I am reminded, once again, that the real heroes are walking among us.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nancy McGreevy on August 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As a former Ocean County resident involved in both the Ciba Geigy and Oyster Creek Nuclear issues from 1970 until about 1995, I have to say that Susann Antonetta has written a classic. She writes with enormous grace and piercing honesty about subjects I know to be true. The book successfully weaves the intricate contradictions American life provides those of us who educated ourselves out of blue collar New Jersey towns only to face how little our lives meant to those making decisions about what and where to manufacture and dump.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Two immigrant families from different parts of the world pursue their dream by building a summer home on the boglands of New Jersey outside the industrial zone - and find their family members falling prey to mysterious illness. Science fiction? No, fact and autobiography in Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir, a title which tells of their health decline and presents a first-person story of toxic environmental effects on generations.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. McKeon on May 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
While "Body Toxic" is an environmental memoir, it is debatable whether the accent should be placed on the term environmental, or on the term toxic. In all probability it should be toxic, because that term is more apropos to the disfunctional maternal side of the family whose emotional problems, while apparently exacerbated by the environmental conditions Antonetta describes, predate them.
As the book starts, it is reminiscent of "A Civil Action", and reader becomes caught up in the environmental devastation of what was a seemingly benign seaside vacation retreat. However, the work deftly becomes more of a family memoir, periodically interwoven with descriptions of the environmental devastation of Ocean County New Jersey which, ironically her mother's family refused to recognize, just as they suppressed acknowledging their family's many aberrant behaviors and personalities.
While perhaps a trite comparison, the family reminiscences are reminiscent of the writing of Jamaica Kincaid in terms of the cadence, and occasions of repetition. Perhaps this is no coincidence since Antonetta focuses on the family's Afro-Carribean roots (or perhaps I subconsciously looked for such a similarity).
This is an important, beautifly written, and bittersweet work. I highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book reads like poetry. The author tries to understand herself and her history from the outside in, as the collaboration of environment, family and genetics on who she is as a woman.

She talks about the toxins in the environment and how her living nearby many of them of them are possible reasons for some serious health and emotional issues she now struggles with. She also examines the toxins that can come from family and surroundings - the ones that cause stress, shame, secrecy and silence. These are often discussed in memoirs but she combines the physical and emotional toxins together to try and make sense of her life.

She takes the memoir to a new genre, one that reaches for the outside in order to understand what has occurred on the inside. She tries to understand herself and her make-up based on the elements at work on her life during her developmental years. I could not put this book down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Maya Gurantz on September 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
Let's be clear: this isn't some sob-story autobiography about some chick blaming her infertility on the power plant next door. Antonetta has written a gorgeous, unsettling book that pushes the boundaries of literary memoir.

Written in muscular, skilled prose, the "environment" of Antonetta's memoir points to the sludge-filled and strangely seductive New Jersey Pine Barrens of her childhood; it refers equally to the toxic world created by her impenetrable, neurotic immigrant family. Antonetta tells hallucinatory, poetic stories that float between the two environments while never misstepping into the sentimental.

Indeed, it is a rare pleasure for me to read a woman's story--especially one intimately engaged with problems of fertility and the body--that is so devoid of cliche and self-pity. Antonetta has plenty of honest anguish, but it is balanced with a damning dry humor, and a sharply raw perception of herself, her family, their history and the history of the land upon which the story unfolds.
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