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Sister of The Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha - as told to Dr. Ben Reitman (NABAT) Paperback – May 1, 2002

3.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Barry Pateman is the curator of the Emma Goldman Archive at the University of California Berkeley and wrote the introduction to AK Press' Chomsky on Anarchism.
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Product Details

  • Series: NABAT
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: AK Press; New edition edition (May 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1902593030
  • ISBN-13: 978-1902593036
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #844,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James D. Giza on July 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Everything I had set out in life to do I had accomplished. I had wanted to
know how it felt to be a hobo, a radical, a prostitute, a thief, a reformer,
a social worker and a revolutionist. Now, I knew."
With an ending like the above, you've gotta bet that the prior 200 pages are
a fun read.
This book is more-or-less the contemporary of that classic 1930's anti-drug
movie "Refer Madness". We encounter dope fiends, perverts, dreamers,
anarchists, abortionists and many others.
I do, so much, love reading about degenerate behavior!
Somewhere in the folds is a statement that Capitalism is evil. "Sure
society has a right to defind itself. Society has the right to send me to
jail if they get the goods on me. But I've got to eat and sleep and my
child has to have his. I don't justify myself. I know I'm wrong. I know my
example is bad. But I'm so short on funds, I have to".
So, I'm reading along. 100 pages. 200 pages. Thinking to myself, hmmm
.... this woman sure had a lot of adventures in her life.
Then ... incredible, annoying, foulness! An afterward is appended to the
text by the publisher.
"In this, the 4th time that Boxcar Bertha has been reissued, we feel obliged
for the first time to make it plain that this is in fact a work of fiction.
This takes nothing away from the book as far as we are concerned."
BALONEY! What the...?!?! I could understand if they'd let the title
stand (after all, we know that the "Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman" is a
novel) but why did they have to leave the binding classification as
"Autobiography"???
I feel so violated. I wouldn't have invested the time if I'd know from the
start that it was fiction. This story is only good if it's true ...
there're a dozen places where I'd have thrown the book down because of
unbelievable-ness if I'd known it were fiction.
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I am from Britt, Iowa where the annual Hobo Days are held every year and as a child I saw Boxcar Bertha, at the time I thought she was really cool but after reading the book I was really disappointed. A lot of what is written about most hobos is exaggerated these days. They show up in campers and have tents whereas back in the 40 & 50s they had there own camp down by the tracks ( they are gone now) and were hobos- not tramps, etc. Next I will read about Boxcar Myrtle!!
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Format: Paperback
I understand that it can be frustrating to find out that something you've just read under the assumption that it was true turns out to be fiction. However, I feel that the focus of the book is being thrown away just because people are a little disappointed. The issue of a man writing as a woman for example. First of all, if you were engaged by the story and THEN realize the author isn't the sex they are portraying, doesn't that mean they did a good job? I loved this book. The writing is intentional in its simplicity and sometimes strangely connected ideas. Also, let's not forget that Reitman was a traveling sociologist. He wasn't a hobo, no, but he was very aware and familiar with the lifestyle he described and had many of those experiences himself. Assigning those to a different character doesn't make them less valid. There are characters in the book that MIRROR his experience EXACTLY. Also, the purpose was to ease the minds of working class citizens during the Depression, so of course some of the language and situations are unrealistic. It's not sunshine and rainbows to be homeless, for goodness' sake. The fact that people are outraged that he writes in a voice outside what is EXACTLY his own are overlooking the fact that he was drawing attention to the voice he used, the voices that no one would listen to otherwise. We can't look at a work like this solely with our modern mind-set. Finally, the comment about "privileged whites writing as radical blacks" was a little silly considering the role those privileged whites played in abolitionist literature and slave narratives. Confining an author to their ethnicity/sex/gender/etc. is to put a big red box around creativity and the things people are able to teach us. No, you shouldn't write what you don't understand, but Reitman did understand what he was writing and I, personally, think he did a good job of accomplishing the specific goals he had in mind for the piece as well as create an entertaining story.
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Format: Paperback
Take it with a grain of salt. It's an interesting look at hoboism, sex, drugs, pimping, anarchy and Depression era Americana. I remember reading this book at the laundromat in Alhambra. It was quite a page turner. It doesn't matter that it's fiction disguised as an autobiography. It's still a fun read.
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Format: Paperback
Getting through this book is going to take more patience than I am willing to muster. The stories told in Boxcar Bertha have so much more potential than their author lets them realize. The writing is just so awful that it completely smothers the narrative -or network of micro-narratives that make up this book. It is one of the most non-engaging adventure stories I have ever read. The author took license to write a fictional story and pass it off as autobiography, at least they could have made more of an effort to be entertaining.
I keep trying to push through Boxcar Bertha because I feel like it will lend some sort of relevant insight into marginal life in the Depression, but I don't think I can do it.
Not to mention the dubious nature of the male author attempting to portray the voice of a radical woman. What's next, privileged whites writing in the voices of radical blacks? Will that pass as meaningful, authentic work with the publishers of the radical left as well? I hope not.
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