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We Don't Talk About It. Ever.: Secrets. Sins. Sex. Salvation.

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In 1980's Apartheid Cape Town, five-year-old Desiree-Anne is grappling with how she is going to turn her tar baby doll's skin into lily-white. She doesn't know how to force her father to stop drinking or gambling or make her mother love her or get the boys and men to stop touching her in secret. She learns how to soothe the pain through secret masturbation and lying.

As she grows up, she begins to understand the rules of living in her depressed family and fractured community.

"Was I in trouble? Were they finally going to make sense of everything that had been happening to me? But no one said a word. I soon learned that this was how it worked in my family. We Don't Talk About It.Ever."

In her teens, laden with the awkwardness of bushy, unruly hair and a body rounder than a Womble's, Desiree-Anne is forced to confront her "coloured identity crisis". She turns to self-harm, disordered eating, the thrill of petty theft and escapism through books and acting. Although she wins a place to study drama at UCT, sensing her parents can't afford the tuition, she leaves for the UK where she gets lost in clubs and pills. On her return to South Africa, she embraces the Ecstasy trance club scene but when she meets Darren, a heroin addict, her search for love descends into a hellishly self-destructive spiral as an intravenous heroin addict.

In this harrowing debut memoir on the darkness of addiction and finding recovery, Desiree-Anne uncovers her real voice to brilliantly write about things that were previously left unspoken.

234 pages, Paperback

First published August 7, 2018

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About the author

Desiree-Anne Martin

3 books22 followers
I am a published poet, addictions counsellor, post-graduate student, full-time wife and mother and part-time warrior woman. I am a recovering addict and believe that caffeine, cigarettes, chocolate and bacon are the four major food groups.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Penny Haw.
Author 5 books87 followers
August 11, 2018
Desiree-Anne Martin concludes the acknowledgements pages at the end of her recently released memoir, We Don’t Talk About It. Ever with the words, “And to all the hurt little – and grown-up – girls, this story is for you. There is always hope. Always.”

Indeed, as I read the approximately 260 preceding pages, I frequently wondered if there was any hope for the author.

Martin was raised in a middle-class Cape Town family by a drinking, gambling and sometimes unfaithful father and a distant mother. The latter prioritised the unruly state of Martin’s hair and the needs of her more delicate son above those of her intelligent and competitive but remarkably temperamental daughter. As a result, Martin learned how to fight her own battles – manipulating and lying whenever necessary, and sometimes just…because – from a young age. Ravenous for attention and affection, she channelled her fledgling acting talent and her extraordinary intuition to deceive, mislead and demand applause.

What followed was a whirlwind youth characterised by addiction, body dysmorphic disorder (she consumed diet pills in a desperate attempt to achieve a ‘thigh gap’ before she believed she was fit to have sex), depression, anxiety, crime, obsession, infidelities, miscarriages and divorce. Several attempts at salvaging her life failed and, interestingly, the one person who stood by her – albeit with ebbing tolerance – was aforementioned distant mother.

Martin’s story – ‘a book doesn’t write itself; a life writes a book,’ she says – is intense, disturbing and moving. There are, it seems, few risks she isn’t reckless enough to try, and when addiction takes hold, the danger escalates. But nothing she undertakes changes the fact that she is a strong, clever woman and, when she finally commits to recovery, it’s her strength and intelligence that triumph.

We Don’t Talk About It. Ever is a tightly written, pacey read. I demolished it in two days. Martin writes skilfully, and with energy and humour. It’s a quality memoir, which, as Martin writes, proves, “There is always hope. Always.”
September 1, 2018
Desiree-Anne Martin's memoir is written so engagingly and vividly that I devoured this book in two days. It's the story of a downhill slide into addiction and darkness, followed by a hard earned transformation that is quite frustratingly un-movie-like. It's messy, it's one step forward, two steps back, but she keeps you with her all the way because of her unflinching honesty and evocative writing. Looking forward to more from this SA writer.
Profile Image for Magda w RPA.
478 reviews6 followers
September 20, 2018
I couldn’t put this book down. The story is moving and I’m sure a lot of people, not necessarily with the same experiences, can relate to it. So many of us have holes in our souls or what feels like it.
I really like the style. It’s both poetic and real, definitely not sentimental.
I also really admire the author’s courage to speak up.
I wish some topics were explored more and maybe the whole book could have been structured a bit better. All in all, a great, engaging read.
November 11, 2018
I could not put this book down. Desiree-Anne is an amazing storyteller. A breathtaking story that had me in tears one moment and laughing out loud the next.
Profile Image for Hannah.
101 reviews
April 26, 2022
I was looking for something heavy to read and I found exactly that. There are so many shocking events in this book that I became a bit numb to them. I had to constantly remind myself that this is a memoir and not a made-up tale.
The writing is fantastic and easy to devour with speed. I’m amazed by the author’s courage to have written so openly to the world about her experiences.
This book has given me a new perspective on life and the reality that so many people face.
September 27, 2018
This was the most phenomenally written book. I cried and laughed with her. I felt everything she so vividly described. I absolutely felt her pain and her journey through her writing. Mesmerized and I couldn’t put it down. She hit the nail of mental health and addiction on the head and her bravery is a force to be reckoned with!

Profile Image for Telana.
66 reviews
October 18, 2020
This is honest, this is not A-Million-Little-Pieces-sensationalized-drug-to-rehab-story. There’s no extra spice or fabrication. This is Desiree’s real life story and I was hooked. I think it’s because Desiree isn’t asking you or wanting you to like her, through out the book she’s just telling it as it is and she isn’t asking the reader to sympathize nor empathize with her - there are no excuses...she IS flawed just like all of us. She’s just one of the few honest ones who can write it down, try and make sense of it, accept it, and pray to change. You inspire me.
Profile Image for Elite Group.
3,031 reviews49 followers
November 19, 2018
Heroin addiction – the brutal reality of becoming addicted.

Desiree-Anne Martin (Dezzy) was an “unplanned mistake” for her mother. She was born two months premature. She was a lively inquisitive child with the unruly hair associated with her colour. Her mother could have passed as “white” in terms of “colour” in apartheid South Africa. Her father, like her, was darker, with more “black” features, like build and coarse hair. Her mother made it clear from the beginning that Desiree-Anne’s brother, closer in colour and far less boisterous, was her favourite child and being sensitive, she felt this rejection even as a tiny child.

Not only was she sexually abused by members of her large family but she suffered mental and verbal abuse at the hands of her mother. She insisted that Desiree-Anne “apply thick, white sunscreen because she hated it when I burned black in summer. She was vocal in her disapproval of my skin tone darkening. It made me, she said, look like a kaffir child”. The pain this sort of remark must have made on this already damaged child must have been truly unbearable.

Dezzy’s parents had a tumultuous marriage, with lots of shouting and things being hurled in anger mainly because of her father’s drinking. He would try to defend her from her mother’s abusive behaviour but wasn’t always around to help.

Her first addiction was slimming tablets. She attended Abbotts College to study for her matric. She was thrust into the co-ed world and all the taunts she got about her hair, and weight tipped her over the edge, and she began taking slimming tablets. Drinking was readily available at the parties she attended. So was cocaine. This led to trying ecstasy, weed, LSD and finally the most potent drug, heroin. Her drug addiction would take her to places which make hell sound like a good place. It took years to get clean. It also took years of psychological help and antidepressants for her to stabilise her manic mental health finally. She has now been clean for thirteen years. Has two beautiful daughters and a loving, stable marriage.

This is just my brief summary of her life. Dezzy had to reach the depths of hell before she got clean. Manic depression, abortion, rape, hidden abuse, overdoses and close death experiences, being just a few. I often think that some people are just meant to live. Dezzy is one of these special people who must go through crises that would kill a lesser person, but somehow, they survive so that they can not only tell their story but also in telling their story, they can, in turn, save others.

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading this book because it is honestly looking at a depth of depravity. However, I’m glad I’ve read it. There are some areas where even I could relate to. I suppose that I must say that it’s only thanks to good luck that I didn’t ever get into drugs. I remember how hard it was to give up smoking, so having to get clean from a cocktail of addictions, particularly heroin, must take more courage than I think I could ever find within myself.


Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
Profile Image for Nel Prinsloo.
7 reviews
January 10, 2019
When I read the first sentence of this book, I thought: “Wow.”
As I continued reading, I understood that the craftsmanship that went into the authoring of the book was akin to that of a master painter lovingly creating a beautiful masterpiece. Each sentence was weighed, polished, perfected, and then carefully added to the whole. The subject matter of the book is compelling, but I’ll get to that. The prose is a delight for the reader who appreciates the work of an author who is a master at her craft.
The story is one of innocence corrupted and destroyed and the ultimate victory of good over evil. As a recovering addict myself, I will read it again and again. It contains shocking revelations that in spite of how dangerous they are made me smile with self-recognition for having been down that road myself and relating on a deeper-than-soul level.
I also learnt some lessons from the book that I’m planning to incorporate into my own recovery. I’m very grateful to my friend who recommended the book to me, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody who has any questions about or problems with addiction. It is also an excellent read for those of us who are now walking the road of recovery – living happy, serene, and productive lives, and working every day to help those addicts who are still suffering.
3 reviews
October 1, 2020
I just finished this book last night!
I would’ve finished it in a night if I had the time, but I also needed to curb my anxiety as I read 𝙤𝙪𝙧 story as you perfectly put it Desiree-Anne. Wow @believe.more.deeply All I can say is this book is an absolute work of pure artistic perfection! SO well written. I couldn’t put it down because I just wanted to know wtf happens next but also because u were literally talking about me! Ur story a bit more extreme in the latter part of ur active addiction, but the emotional aspect of it all - OMG!
I laughed at the similarities, but I cried, a lot, because of them too.
𝗧𝗛𝗔𝗡𝗞 𝗬𝗢𝗨! You know why! #timetoheal
I will be adding the paperback to my collection because I HAVE TO buy this book!
Profile Image for Simone.
19 reviews
November 22, 2018
I had first heard about this book from a local radio presenter who raved about being unable to put the book down, I knew then I just HAD to read it, but when I had read the description of the book, I was scared. I was scared my reserved, never-done-a-drug-in-my-life-self would not be able to handle the brutality of this book. I decided to put my big girl blouse on and dove into this book and as the presenter testified, I too struggled to put this book down.
Brutal (man, so brutal), honest (cringe worthy honesty), real (keep tissues nearby) and extremely captivating. Thank you, Desiree-Anne, I look forward to your next book.
January 11, 2020
This is one of the bravest, most honest books I have ever read. The author possesses a number of unique traits, she has survived trauma and addiction and betrayal, she is also able to write eloquently and poetically. It is confusing because at times she is describing a tragic or painful moment, but does so in beautiful and flowing prose.

The book is a memoir, primarily a chronological history of the author's life and her battles with addictions (of various forms), but it is more than a harrowing tale of drugs and depravity, laced with humour, hope and honesty, it is a story of bravery and of self-honesty and the ability to recover one's life.

It is a relatively quick read, partly because the prose is flowing and clear, and partly because it leads to compulsive reading. I finished it in about 3 days.
1 review2 followers
November 19, 2018

Desiree’s raw honesty and vulnerability will leave you hurting, crying, and laughing. You will feel despair and pain. But mostly, you will leave her book with such hope; hope for yourself if you are suffering through addiction, and hope for your loved ones if you are watching them suffer. Desiree’s words are a gift, pulling emotions from our gut and filling our hearts with light.
August 17, 2020
This book had me captured! I had to tear myself away from it when having to perform necessary, mundane chores. I loved the short chapters, which suits my distracted, ADHD mind. I read every word, every page, from cover to cover! I didn’t want it to end…

Raw, real, captivating, articulate, eloquent, descriptive and brutality honest comes to mind – and the transformation in the end so beautiful!
Profile Image for Hedi Lampert.
Author 2 books7 followers
February 4, 2020
Secrets, lies, deceit and sexual abuse shape the author's first decade, and then we follow her on a terrifying downward spiral into addiction starting with alcohol and progressing to heroin. Crime, imprisonment, prostitution and more heroin become the cornerstones of the author's day-to-day existence. Yet, this is a story of hope and astonishing courage – a true hero's journey of transformation.
Desiree Martin writes with a combination of lyrical beauty and the brutality of a punch in the gut.
I read it in one riveting sitting.
1 review1 follower
August 12, 2018
This book has made me laugh, cry and sigh. Gut-wrenching truths about life.
1 review
February 7, 2020
Awesome book Desiree -Anne Martin

I loved your book. It broke my heart and at the same time restored my faith in sobriety. Your story could have been my story. Thank you for your honesty and your beautiful book.
2 reviews
January 3, 2019
I read this book in 4 hours.
Everything else in the world faded away as I devoured every last word.
Beautifully written, heart wrenching and I cannot stop recommending it to all my friends.
Made me think of things I never speak about and how I approach my own addictive tendencies.
Thank You for writing this.
1 review1 follower
October 14, 2020
This memoir serves as a voice of its time.

A testament that addition & ill mental health is not a failure of character, but rather a byproduct of the insidious PTSD that is rife amongst us & constantly denied.

This is a story of hope and resilience that I could not put down.
Profile Image for Gail Gilbride Bohle.
26 reviews4 followers
April 13, 2019

1980’s Cape Town and the colour of her skin is already an issue for five year old Desiree-Anne.
The child is unhappy with her doll’s darkness and wants to make her white. She has already internalized that Whites are ‘better’ than everyone else. Her father drinks and gambles. Men touch her inappropriately and her mother’s love is hard to come by. Martin finds her own ways of replacing the love so sorely lacking and at every Scripture Union camp she gives her heart to Jesus.

The unwritten rules in her family and community are, We Don’t Talk About It. Ever. As an awkward teenager in a ‘White School’, Desiree-Anne is painfully aware of her ‘Coloured’ status. Self-harm, disordered eating, petty theft and escapism through books and acting are her methods of coping. She gives up the chance to study drama at UCT in favour of a trip to the UK where she gets lost in bars, clubs and pills. Back home, the Ecstasy trance club scene pulls her in. When Darren, a heroin addict, enters her life, she turns to needles and soon spirals down into addiction.

Martin’s account is harrowing, evocative and at times humorous. I am in awe of the brutal honesty and skilful writing. This memoir is a testament to the author’s love of words, which have become her addiction of choice.

I do hope Desiree-Anne Martin is well into her next offering and I’ll be watching for it.

4 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2020
This biography isn't for the faint-hearted; it's an alarmingly honest account of a life that seemingly unraveled, as the result of substance abuse. Although it was clear, to me, that Martin's father was an addict (gambling, alcohol and infidelity) and that his behaviour and habits adversely affected his relationships, specifically with this enabling, powerless, codependent wife and children, and even though I could identify with much in her upbringing, Martin's descent into the depths of addiction, without fear, it seemed to me, or a sense of personal responsibility, self-awareness and forethought, made me suspect that it was more due to mental illness, than anything else. That said, I am richer for having read her biography. She definitely has a unique writing style and manner of self-expression but, this book isn't for the faint-hearted.
Profile Image for Karina Szczurek.
Author 10 books50 followers
December 14, 2019
I don't often read books about addiction, but I am very glad I did read Martin's brave memoir. It takes guts to write one's own story with such unflinching honesty, to go to all those dark places and emerge with hope and beauty. I often thought about the Ann Voskamp quote while reading: "Shame dies when stories are told in safe places." Indeed. And, if we are lucky, there is truth and healing and a brighter future.
Profile Image for Cheraé.
17 reviews
July 23, 2020
The book title alone activates a common experience that comes along with growing up in a coloured home. In subtle detail, Desiree-Anne describes the spiraling effects a culture of silence has on how one navigates self and self in the world. The content can be triggering at times, but only due to the honesty and confrontational energy with which the author writes the facts of her reality. I travelled with Desiree-Anne right to the end, and I came out feeling relieved for her hurt little girl and hopeful for the many little girls I haven’t met but know exist.
1 review
December 26, 2020
What a beautiful read...

I finished this book in 2 days. Could not put it down. WOW! Refreshingly honest and beautifully written. What an inspiration the author is. I felt like i was right there on her journey with her. Just simple, AMAZING!
Profile Image for Louise Gooding.
Author 3 books24 followers
October 3, 2021
I’d actually say 4.5 stars but we don’t get that option.
This book is heartbreaking and at times difficult to read due to the content, the writing is brilliant, but some of the chapters are dark.
It’s hard to read something sometimes which features so much pain, especially when it’s a true story, someone’s real lived experiences.
I wanted to read Desiree-Anne’s story, her book, after seeing a short extract of ‘her world’ in an anthology I read earlier in the year
What a journey, what a life.
I think it’s always worth opening yourself up to see in to other people’s worlds, their journeys, their highs and lows, it helps you gain a deeper understanding of the different challenges we all face as humans.
Worth a read if you can handle difficult conversations/subjects.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews

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