172 of 182 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 1999
I grew up in Dorchester which was on the other side of the tracks. Therefore, I already had something wrong with me should I venture to Southie. I was labeled an outsider and wouldn't dare go there alone even though I was white, Irish and Catholic. They were dangerous kids and if one of them accused you of looking at any of them the wrong way, that was enough for a gang beating. They were so full of anger and rage, and they could not ever form a sentence without using a slur of obsenities. I often wondered as a kid how these so called Irish Catholics could be so consumed with hate and venom not only against the rest of society, but towards each other as well. It never made sense to me. I am also Mike's cousin and even though we haven't seen each other since he was a kid, I always felt there was something different about Mike as compared to the rest of the pack. I did go to the apartment a couple of times and the atmosphere was exactly as he described it. Helen getting ready to go out with her accordian, the other tenant's yelling echoing in the halls, Mike at the window or watching TV and the endless metal door slamming from the coming and going activity. I was there for the Frank's funeral, he was a good guy who made a fatal error in judgement just looking for a way out. I also spent a little time with Kathy after her accident. A beautiful girl who loved to dance, now another statistic to the horrors of drugs. What might have been if she had grown up somewhere else is now just speculation. The family's pain was unbearable as one by one they were slipping away. They were caught up in a world of out of control madness with devastating consequences. Mike did an excellent job telling the truth for the most part. I recently drove through Patterson Way on a trip back home, and the sheer gloominess of the street is like a cemetary. It is so sad. For those of you who have read the book and might have wondered what happened to Nellie and her brood of fatherless children as Michael so eloquently pointed out, they all went on to further their educations and are responsible productive citizens. Morals and values begin at home, and what is most crucial to raising children is a loving and stable home that in some cases only the mother can provide. Helen just wouldn't leave, "The Best Place On Earth," under any circumstances. You be the judge of what can and cannot be accomplished raising children alone when you have your priorities in order.
108 of 118 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2000
Wow! I just finished reading the book...it brought a tear to my eye. As an African-American woman four years older tham Michael, born in the same housing project as he...the story hit home. I commend Mr. MacDonald for his poignant memoir. I grew up in Roslindale, at the time a predominately Irish-Catholic neighborhood, where I lived in fear of the "Southie" types. My family even experienced first-hand being chased out of Southie when I was a teen. My leaving Boston after high school was pretty much a reaction to the racism that permeated the city at that time. It was refreshing to get insight to the "other side" through Mr. MacDonald's brutal honesty. My heart does not bleed for his family or the people in the "best place in the world", but it does help me to understand the pathology that divide and conquer creates. And how when all is said and done and people have died...be all have much more in common than we'd like to think. It also has inspired me to tell my own story and look forward to more tales from Southie from this sensitive, daring writer. Thanks for the insight and memories!
124 of 137 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2000
This piece of literature has it all: it's moving, riveting, gripping, and revealing; and it's very well written. The author's clearly a talented story teller, and he's very courageous to put this revealing story of his family's tragic experiences in the public domain. Michael MacDonald(and Ma) should be commended just for that courage, not even considering his literary talents. I can't imagine the level of pain he endured writing it because of the pain I felt just reading it. The book's emotional spectrum runs the whole gamut from sadness, grief, and despair to sheer hilartity...there's that Irish wit and humor throughout.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone and everyone in our American society. The story had to be told: it's poverty and class, folks, not race! Whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc., whatever ethnic or racial group there is, those at the poor end of the specrum will suffer until society changes."All Souls" teaches us that. Hopefully we'll learn from this marvelous work, and things will improve.
Like Michael, I'm someone born and brought up in a Southie housing project(The Old Harbor Village), albeit some 25 years earlier. I was luckier than Michael and his siblings because I had two parents, and drugs and guns were virtually nonexistent in Southie's projects in the 40's, 50's, and early 60's when I was there. However, I can identify with and testify to the existence of "Southie Pride", and the insular nature of "The Town", that "us versus the rest of the world" mentality. Combine that with the forced busing saga produced by a self-serving state legislature which passed laws to insure their lily-white towns wouldn't be affected by busing, and a judge from Wellesley who didn't have a clue, along with extreme poverty, organized crime controlling Southie ,an incompetent and/or corrupt police force, a similarly corrupt local FBI contingent, guns, drugs, and booze pouring in uninhibited by law enforcement, and lo and behold, you have the perfect formula for the disaster that ensued, the anger, hate, despair, misery, grief, the premature deaths, suicides, murders, ODs' etc, the exacerbation of Southie's natural introversion! Thanks to this wonderful book, the story is out there,and the healing process has begun.
I really hope all of America reads the book, especially those non-Southies who live in Boston and its environs. I guarantee you will all change your perspective of Southie afterwards. I would also recommend that "All Souls" be mandatory in the high school English courses of the Boston Public School system, as well as those across the country. There'a a major lesson to be learned here.
Michael MacDonald..Thank you for your story, and I'll be waiting for to write more!
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2000
For a young man in his thirties, Michael Patrick MacDonaldexhibits a rare strong, intelligent, probing voice in thisautobiography of his childhood in the forced-busing 1970's SouthBoston.
Readers learn that poverty and tragedy, caused by or atleast exacerbated by Southie's own destructive code of silence and theFBI's refusal to prosecute the 'hood's mafia chief/purveyor ofdrugs/booze/weapons, end up devastating Southie and the author'sfamily. He loses 4 siblings to crime or discrimination.
This is NOTa depressing book. It is uplifting in the sense that Angela's Asheswas: the author writes most of the time from his childhood perspective-- one that doesn't know any other world but the one in which he isliving.
The family went out of their way to NOT look poor, to thepoint where they would buy shop-lifted designer clothes from a Southie"fence" so that they could look as fashionable as everyoneelse, despite the fact that their mother was a "career"welfare mom. MacDonald has said in interviews that in large part hisbook is about the denial of their poverty and immersion in thedrug/weapon culture he wants readers to understand. There's much, muchmore.
I am a Masters student in American & New England Studiesand had to read this book for a class called Ethnicity in America. Ifyou have one book to choose to give you a perspective on how the Irish"assimilated" to the Boston scene, choose this one. Youwon't be able to put it down.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2000
Claude Brown told it from an African American perspective thirty years ago. Now we have it from an Irish American perspective. Poor people, regardless of race, are used, manipulated and pitted against each other to the advantage of those in power. Still, in communities crushed down by poverty, crime, corruption, alcohol and drug abuse, some people will not let humanity be crushed out of them. As Viktor Frankel observed in the concentration camps some people will survive no matter how oppressive the conditions. I am glad Michael MacDonald survived to remind us of that fact again. This is a painful book to read. I found it compelling in a way I don't with Angela's Ashes (which I have my education students read). This is an important book and should not be considered as an Irish genre work any more than Brown's is Black genre. They both speak to the human condition in a way we need to hear more frequently, for our own humanity's sake.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2007
My name is James Mallan im 26 years old and grew up in Old Colony (East 8th). I moved out of Southie in 1996 when the epidemic of suicides hit my neighborhood. After losing countless friends to death and drugs I went to live with my godfather in Maine. It was tuff leaving Old Colony but I now know it saved my life. I now live in Chicago. I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by. I was in college at Umass when a friend was assigned ALL SOULS. Even though it wasn't my class I read the book in 2 days. It was the only book I read in college. Growning up with an addicted mother in Old Colony I felt as if you dipped your pen into my soul and wrote down my life story. I had an older brother that I never met who was violently taken. The way that you described your relationships with Kevin and Frank allowed me to process my own pain about my brother. After reading your book I was able to confront some of the issues of my childhood and bring to light some family secrets that needed to be adressed. I feel that I am a more complete person after reading your book and applying it to my own life and for that I can not express the graditude.
Also I really conected with Frank, in your family. I was the oldest living member of my household and had to take on responsibility that I didn't understand at the time. In some similar ways that Frank was expressed. I found an outlet for the unresolved pain and anger of those situations. In 2001 I started boxing as an amature. The chapters about Frank's boxing career spoke to me, I dedicated myself in his honor and . I always say a prayer to Frank before getting into the ring that Im able to fight with his heart and strength. If this is at all disrespectfull to your brothers memory I do appoligize, I fell that my heart is in the right place honoring your brother. In 6 years of fighting amatures I have a record of 27-6 and look towards making boxing my career. I really don't think that I would be boxing at all if I didn't read your book. And Im sure my life wouldn't be were it is today without All Souls. Thank you for the courage.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2000
just a few miles from South Boston, I found this book to be disturbingly authentic. Although I am a few years older than the author, I, too remember all too clearly forced bussing, only in my neighborhood bomb threats were made on the tunnels and bridges needed to get to any other part of Boston. I, too, marched and boycotted-not really understanding the issues. I "got out" as MacDonald did and also have been left with an unexplainable and illogical longing and nostalgic feel for the 'hood. His images of his childhood, with the kids belonging to all the mothers sitting on stoopes, in turn made me ache for the old days, when my friends and I were virtually carefree and then want to scream for how we were fooled into believing that there was nothing more important or interesting or certainly worth knowing outside of the few streets you knew by heart.
This was a depressing read, one I can't seem to shake after nearly finishing it in one sitting. Like "Angela's Ashes", this family's destitution is almost to much to bear. MacDonald's reminiscenes brought me back to a place I don't neccessarily like to visit. However, all in all, I think this is an important book for anyone who grew up in Southie, Eastie, Dorchester etc (you know who you are), if for no other reason than to validate the insanity we lived with on a daily basis.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2000
Comparing All Souls to Frank McCourt, is like reviewing a film by an African American director and having to mention Spike Lee. All Souls stands on its own. It uses a brilliantly unique voice, with its own intention for the world. MacDonald and McCourt are both Irish and grew up poor, but MacDonald's book, rather than being another beautiful romanticised memoir about a safely distant Irish poverty of the past, is distinctly about American poverty and life in a contemporary urban ghetto. Unlike Angela's Ashes, poor kids in the South Bronx who are Black and Latino can read MacDonald's account of growing up in an Irish housing project, and know exactly what he is talking about. Because this book, more than being about anything Irish, is about class in contemporary America. All Souls' straight-forward use of irony and humor makes for a beautiful read that can teach us all how to live, and encourage us all to work for change in our racist AND classist American society.
38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 1999
Having grown up nearby, and having heard every "armchair analysis" of life in Southie, I was interested in learning more about the place. What I did not expect was to become consumed with the drama, pride, sadness, tragedy and laughs that make the place so unique. This book is a great voice from within the community and a healthy addition to all the other tomes of life during busing or the criticisms of the clannish Irish. Now, when I walk along the Carson Beach, or drive down Broadway, I have a better sense of the people who call Southie "My Hometown" Great Job Mike!
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2004
I'm a Black female who lived in Boston for five years in the '90s. While I was there, I would never have dreamed about setting foot in 'Southie', which I'd gathered quite a negative, stereotyped impression about from friends, the media, and just the general culture around Boston, which seemed to regard it as some backwards, redneck inner-city hamlet. But this summer, while back in Boston for a visit, something made me pick this book up and purchase it.
I was immediately drawn into Michael MacDonald's story, and especially his description of Southie. I love his writing style, and really appreciate his honesty and his willingness to break through the neighborhood pressure to keep up that stifling code of silence about the real troubles in the area. Reading the defensive reviews of some of the South Boston natives reminds me of the same defensiveness that Black people sometimes put on, when they get angry with people who "air our family laundry" out in public. I'm going to recommend this book to my bookclub, because I feel that more people need to know that inner-city poverty and pathology belongs to no particular race or creed, as MacDonald so vivdly proves in his memoir.
This book was about the common humanity within everyone, no matter what the skin color. This is the inspiring essence that I took from this book; the reminder that, underneath all the appearances, we are all One, with similar desires, dreams, goals, aspirations. Some of us are born into comfortable circumstances, and some of us are not, but we can all learn from each other, if we are so inclined. Kudos to Michael MacDonald for writing this touching and bold book, and much gratitude to him, for making a positive difference in the world through all the amazing programs and work he is doing to help parents and kids of all colors.