Tuesday, November 2, 2010

ZenTiger Star of the Sea

Wow! I just finished a great book - Star of the Sea, by Irish writer Joseph O'Connor (brother to Sinead, as it happens).

The quality of writing was superb, and really brought to life the history of the Irish Potato famine, in a deeply personal way. Somewhere in the book, it says:
"History happens in the first person but is written in the third. This is what makes history a completely useless art"
and yet the book is a living contradiction of this, blending fiction with fact in such a skillful way as to place the reader in the same space as the desperate, the lost, the hungry, the starving, the dying. His writing style is simply impressive, and I enjoyed feasting on the imagery and prose as much as the people those words created, allowing me to imagine the events as if they were all too real.

O'Connor weaves political, religious, cultural context and personal perspectives into the narrative, and the motives and experiences of the main characters pull you away from the central tragedy of the famine as if caught in a hurricane, thrown to a new compass point, but always and ever with your gaze fixed relentlessly back into the eye of the storm, an eye that is only calm and still because it reflects death and tragedy on a scale that cannot be described in mere words, lest it fall back into a history described in the third person.

There are several parts of the novel that stand out to me, and if I weren't so lazy I'd type them into this post. One was an amusing rapier-like thrust into leftist rhetoric, perhaps thrown in to balance the role the rich and the powerful played in the events of the famine. Mostly, though it were the stories of those taking the brunt of the famine, suffering in all its forms whilst I was left with the uncomfortable feeling such suffering continues in all corners of the world today. How close are we - me, my friends, my family, to such events. It all seemed far too personal.
I saw John Furey from Rosaveel and thought him asleep; but he was dead; and to see that great strong man who could at one time pull a hedge out of the earth with his mighty left hand now lying so still was a terrible thing.  But to witness the sufferings of the tiny children; to hear the sounds they made in their agonies.  I cannot write it.
It can never be written, Mary.  People would not believe such things could have been permitted to happen.
And I feel shamed for such things still happening.

I recommend Star of the Sea if you like a bit of a murder mystery, in a historical context, or you just want to read a good book.

And thanks KG!

PS: And given this is a Catholic Blog, I'll comment on the title of the book, The Star of the Sea. It's the name of the ship much of the story takes place on (with frequent trips into the background of the passengers), but of course it is also another name we know Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin Mary by (from wiki):

Our Lady, Star of the Sea is an ancient title for the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. The words Star of the Sea are a translation of the Latin title Stella Maris, first reliably used with relation to the Virgin Mary in the ninth century. The title was used to emphasize Mary's role as a sign of hope and as a guiding star for Christians. Under this title, the Virgin Mary is believed to intercede as a guide and protector of those who travel or seek their livelihoods on the sea. This aspect of the Virgin has led to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, being named as patroness of the Catholic missions to seafarers, the Apostleship of the Sea, and to many coastal churches being named Stella Maris or Mary, Star of the Sea. This devotion towards Our Lady with this ancient title is very popular throughout the Catholic world.

1 comment(s):

KG said...

That book affected me for weeks after finishing it.The great writing, the slice of unvarnished history and a massive tragedy made so real makes it unforgettable.
Enjoyed your review, Zen. :)

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