Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review: Minding Ben

Grace Caton's dream is to leave Trinidad and move to New York City. When she arrives in the city she finds herself along and forced to compete with other West Indian women for poorly paid, exploitative nanny jobs for Manhattan's wealthy. For most of the book Grace works for Sol and Miriam Bruckner, babysitting for their son, Ben. The Bruckners overwork and underpay Grace, lording the promise of a visa sponsorship over her head to keep her in their employ and justify their poor treatment.

This book reminded me very much of The Nanny Diaries, both books looking at the strange world of New York nannies, and the abuse they take from their employers. Brown's work adds immigration issues into the tale, and Grace's hope for a visa leads her to consider options she might otherwise avoid, such as marrying a completely unsuitable American man, and continuing to work for the miserable Bruckners. Grace realizes quickly that everyone is willing to take advantage of her.

Throughout the book I had a hard time understanding why Grace wanted to stay in New York, given how badly she was treated there. The Bruckners were a like a train wreck, their behavior was so bad that it was almost painful to read about, but at the same time, it's hard to look away. The luxurious apartments of Manhattan's wealthy are a different kind of sweatshop, taking advantage of vulnerable workers and subjecting them to irrational whims and poor treatment.

Victoria Brown, Minding Ben (Voice, 2011) ISBN: 9781401341510