Book Review: Waiting for the Apocalypse Jan 24, 2009
Waiting for the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Faith and Family by Veronica Chater ($23.95, Norton, 9780393066036/0393066037, February 2, 2009)
Making her debut with this beautifully written and deeply affecting memoir, Veronica Chater presents readers with an indelible portrait of her unusual and sometimes disturbing childhood with parents who were loving but risked everything--emotionally and physically--in the name of religion. Though there have been many "confessionals" of being raised strictly Catholic, few have experienced an upbringing as extreme as Chater's, nor have described it as eloquently. [Editor's note: Check out the unusual cover below!]
In 1972, when Chater was 10 years old, her father's resentment of Vatican II reforms reached a boiling point when he was unable to find a church anywhere in the vicinity of their Northern California home that still offered a Latin mass along with other traditional rituals he considered vital to the integrity of the faith. Chief among his concerns was that the modernization of the Church was leading to the Holy Chastisement, the apocalypse prophesied by the vision of Our Lady of Fatima. Chater (the second of 11 children) was so versed in this notion that on one particularly windy afternoon, she was convinced the day of reckoning had arrived. A CHP officer who was adored by his wife and children, Chater's father abruptly quit his job and moved the entire family to Portugal, where he was sure the true faith was still practiced. Predictably the move turned out to be a disaster. Not only were the Portuguese churches even more liberal than those at home, but the family was pushed into poverty. Chater's father moved them back to California, but became increasingly fanatic, forming a group dedicated to the "Catholic counter-revolution," meeting for traditional mass in warehouses, garages and basements and sending two of Chater's brothers to a cultish Brazilian "seminary." All the while, Chater's practical but dutiful mother soldiered on, never gainsaying her husband. By the time Chater was 16, her home life had become untenable. The nadir was reached when, upon discovering that Chater and her older sister were sexually active, their father kicked them out of the house, forcing Chater to spend three nights sleeping in a park.
The bulk of Chater's memoir focuses on her pre-adolescent years to which she brings a keen sense of humor and an authentic child's-eye sense of wonder and adventure. Despite the increasing chaos in her family, her father's deepening obsessions and her eventual, total disillusionment with Catholicism, Chater never expresses bitterness or self-pity. Indeed, her continuing love for and faith in her family-–and her refusal to judge her father--are what make her story so moving and, ultimately, so powerful.--Debra Ginsberg
Shelf Talker: An evocative and deeply moving memoir of growing up in the grip of religious fanaticism and its effect on faith, identity and one family.
Causes Veronica Chater Supports
Sierra Club; Public Library; Public Schools; Crowden Music Center; Women's Cancer Resource Center; Democratic Party