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Memos From Purgatory Mass Market Paperback – May 5, 1955


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback
  • Publisher: Ace Books; Reissue edition (May 5, 1955)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441524389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441524389
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,957,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Byrd on July 23, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is an ordeal.

It's the nearly complete account of Harlan Ellison's attempt to be a genuine writer. He wanted to write about gangs in the mid-fifties. So he joined one.

This story is about how this one stupid mistake managed to haunt him for years afterward. It's not a happy book, but it's important. It's an historical account and it effects Ellison to this very day. There's a lot of ranting about the system and of children thrown away -- a lot of anger. And it seems justified.

I don't have the personal experience to say whether or not this book is accurate, but it's certainly gripping and convincing.

It's an ordeal.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael L. Raymond on February 26, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Memos from Purgatory may be unique in the literature of street gangs. Its author was only twenty-one when he adopted the name and persona of a young tough, and persuaded a Brooklyn youth gang to accept him as a member, for ten weeks in 1954. The incredibly personal tone of the book makes it clear that Ellison was deeply affected by the experience, even writing years later. You feel as if he is sitting next to you, telling you face to face about his experiences with the gang.

The writing is so vivid that you feel the mixed terror and exhilaration of a gang rumble at night in a city park, his awkward but tender liaison with a very young girl gang member, and the viciousness of a knife fight with another gang member resentful of him as the new guy. The backgrounds of the slum neighborhood, the young hoodlums he got to know well, the feeling of being right there in the midst of the action, are conveyed so directly and powerfully that the book is truly unforgettable. It's no wonder that it took Ellison a long time to be able to write about the experience. By the time you get to the end of the apocalyptic rumble, you wonder that he was able to survive to write about it.

The second half of the book, describing his arrest and brief detention in a New York jail some years later, is gripping, but not as compelling as the first part.

The honesty and emotion with which he describes his time in the gang make this book a sad and tremendously moving memoir.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I was so taken with "Memos" as a teenager that now that I have a teenager of my own, I believe this to be an important read for him. Good, straightforward writing from a great storyteller.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 21, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In 1954, Harlan Ellison moved to the Red Hook section of Brooklyn with the intent of joining a street gang, research for his next tome. His experiences as "Cheech" Beldone, from his ritual deflowering of one of the Baron Debs to an Indian knife fight with a fellow Baron, are harrowing and disturbing images of gang life in the 50's. Although the "when you're a Jet, you're a Jet" ideals are now "cute" compared to gang life in the new millennium, it's still horrifying. Memos From Purgatory is actually two books in one; Book One:The Gang deals with his gang life, while Book Two: The Tombs is an account of an occurrence six years later in which Ellison spends 24 hours in New York's jail system. Set up and tipped off to the police by a disgruntled acquaintance, Ellison is held on weapons possession (stemming from the weapons from his gang days that he used as display on his lecture tours about the book). It's at this point Memos From Purgatory loses me. Whine, whine, whine. That's all Ellison does in this second half. He does admit that there are those out there who would question his frenzied reaction at being incarcerated for only 24 hours (and acting like it's 24 years), and I suppose I'm one of them. The whole time I was reading Book Two: The Tombs, I kept thinking, "Man, Ellison, calm down." He gives a good overview of the miserable conditions of jail in the Big City and the screwed-up judicial system that accompanies it, but the overreacting is just too much. I heartily hand it to Ellison for having the nerve to join a street gang and write about it, but Book One: The Gang should have stood on its own.Read more ›
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