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Waiting for the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Faith and Family Hardcover – February 2, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

As a young child, freelance writer Chater learned from her parents that the reforms of Vatican II brought the Smoke of Satan into the Roman Catholic Church. Then one day her father announced that the family would be leaving its Northern California home and moving to Portugal so they could be closer to the true faith. That trip turned out to be a disaster, and this powerful memoir becomes increasingly grimmer as the Chaters return home and become involved in increasingly conservative religious groups plotting the Catholic counter-revolution, until being forbidden to wear modern clothes like blue jeans is the least of the teenage girls problems. Chater finds plenty of dark humor in the way her fathers religious obsessions blinded him to reality and led the family into financial hardship, but she never turns him into a cartoon villain. Even when he turns out to be a Confederate sympathizer and a monarchist, or after he kicks her and her sister out of the house for engaging in premarital sex, she handles his story with sensitivity and grace. Chaters memoir reminds us how easy it can be for ordinary families to get caught up in religious fervor, with emotionally devastating consequences that linger long after faith has been abandoned. (Feb.)
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Beautifully written and deeply affecting memoir…moving and, ultimately, so powerful. (Debra Ginsberg -Shelf-Awareness )

Short-story and magazine writer Chater brings an ear for dialogue and an eye for the absurd to this tragicomic debut memoir about coming of age in the 1970s in an ultraconservative Catholic family.The ordeals of such a childhood - the nuns, the rulers, the guilt - have long provided fodder for stand-up comedians, confessional autobiographies and even musical comedies. The author, one of 11 children, contributes to the canon in this painfully funny account. Her father, a state trooper and converted Catholic, was enraged by the Church's liberalization after the 1965 Vatican II Council. He scorned shorter veils for nuns, Mass conducted in English and parishioners standing for communion as "Vatican II." In church he ordered his children to close their eyes, clench their fists and refuse the blasphemous Handshake of Peace. Chater was taught that corruption of Catholic traditions would lead to communist world domination and trigger an apocalyptic scenario called the Holy Chastisement. Her father fantasized about moving the family to the miracle capital of Lourdes, France; when that plan fizzled, they settled for rural Portugal. Initially hopeful ("even the dogs were Catholic"), they discovered that Portugal was just as "Vatican II" as California. The family sunk into poverty and returned to America, marginalized and disappointed. Chater's father grew ever more fanatical. He banned his daughters from wearing pants, shipped his sons to a cultlike anticommunist Brazilian monastery and dragged the ever-larger and poorer family to a series of guerrilla parishes that met in abandoned storefronts and empty garages. The kids got intermittent emotional relief from their devout but eminently practical mother, so frugal that she chose an old mop as airplane carry-on luggage upon leaving Portugal. The memoir's tone shifts jarringly at the end, when the voice of Chater as a bemused child becomes that of an unhappy young woman. Still, that voice relates a compelling story with a dramatic climax. Affecting and unsparingly honest. (Kirkus Reviews )

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (February 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393066037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393066036
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,350,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Annie Spiegelman on February 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Not being a fan of any sort of religion, I'm curious, fascinated and a bit envious of people who believe deeply in their faith. Reading about Veronica Chater's pious mom and dad, and their travels between California and Portugal with 6 children in the 1970's to find the proper Catholic Utopia, is like watching fuzzy homemade movies of that era; and then trying to put the puzzle pieces together for days after, knowing there is a piece missing. Perhaps that piece is sanity. But you will enjoy the emotionally bumpy ride and come to find compassion for the characters you have absolutely nothing in common with. For example, the mother who prays in traffic with a load of kids in the backseat of the car, "Hail Mary, full of grace-Tracey, take that thing out of Jennifer's mouth before she chokes-who are in heaven hallowed be-Ronnie, that's enough pushing, keep your hands to yourself-kingdom come thy will be done on earth . . . Nick get off the floor!" Or, the dad, who quits the highway patrol, sells everything and has a backyard work shed called "the Womb" where he keeps track of Communists advancing across the globe.
I'm about half way through the book and I can't put it down. Chater is a talent not to be missed. She's a beautiful storyteller that keeps you coming back wanting more. This is the perfect book for a book club.
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Format: Hardcover
Veronica Chater's memoir about growing up in the 70s in a large, Catholic family post-Vatican II grabbed me and didn't let me go until I finished the last page. Her writing is cinematic-vivid and her voice strong and unwavering, humorous and ironic. Chater's reflections on the events lend intellectual and emotional depth to her riveting story. She seamlessly blends the history of Vatican II into the fascinating mix of characters making up her quirky and endearing family. (I'm acquainted with the author; however, I'm unable to find fault with this book, hence the five stars.)
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Format: Hardcover
This book is entertaining, but it is much more than that. It is also laugh-out-loud funny, heart-breaking and extremely moving. The author's courage in telling her truth, coupled with the resilience of her family's love in the face of that truth, is what makes this book so special. My family couldn't be more different from Chater's and yet - it drew forth a whole slew of feelings about my family I had no idea were there.
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Format: Hardcover
This memoir follows the tradition of the coming-of-age story, told in prose that duplicates the narrator's growing awareness of the need to create her own "Weltenschauung," or "world-view." The fact that she and I are only a year apart in age and that she was from a traditionalist, "true" if schismatic Catholic upbringing impelled me to read this, for my best friend's family around the mid-70s when the bulk of this story occurs was from the same background. His raising, like hers and mine, took place amidst a dreary California of downmarket tract homes and shabby strip malls.

I found the opening chapters a bit too garrulous, as we learn of the "anti-revolutionary international" opposed to Vatican II through her rather gee-whiz, overdriven style. However, as she matures, the book's tone deepens. In the travels that surround the family's desperate Portuguese diaspora, the growing divide between her dogmatic father and herself, and her own entry into the dangers of the body-- in both a sexual and an injury-prone sense-- we find her character developing.

Chater takes on her complicated life-- within her family and among their harried fellow communicants clinging to the Tridentine Latin Mass and the remnant of a pre-conciliar Church-- with gusto. She can also be nuanced, as when she encapsulates her parent's relationship. Her father expounds chapter and verse on the follies of modernism, Communism, and liberalism; her mother raises eventually ten children; in the future, her extended family will house fifteen in a tiny three-bedroom house and siblings will find themselves living in jerry-built shacks on the patio and tents.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The true story in this book was so interesting, It was almost like I didn't want the story to end. It was like a great movie that you want to see again. I will read this book again and again. Ronnie Chater amazes me with the beautiful way she puts the story together. She wrote a "Best Seller".
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By JoeyG on December 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit my review has SOME bias, I am a classmate of the authors from St. Mary's School. I was turned on to this book from another classmate of ours who I still haven't figured out how he found out about the book (TonyG). I made my wife buy it on her kindle last night and I stayed up until 1:30am reading it. I am half way done - I hate reading. This book has to be made into a movie...it is funny, sad, scary (God stuff)and it just flows. I would love to get in contact with the author to say hi and let her know in person (or via email)how much I am loving it. I have gone all over the web to find an email for her but I can't seem to find one.
Veronica congratulations on a wonderful work of art, I can not wait to go home and finish it. BTW, Dixon Poole was a funny/weird dude. Contact me joe.guttadauro@comcast.net.
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