Saturday, August 18, 2012


"This fireside voice took great care to say that imagination and emotion insist on playing their parts in every history, and therefore, to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination." -Frank Delaney author of Ireland

Let me begin with a discription of the novel. This is the story of Ronan O'Mara, beginning the summer when he was 9 yrs old and a travelling storyteller came to his home to tell tales. From the moment Ronan saw this man, in his eyes so powerful with the stories he told and the way he held people's attention, the little boy felt a connection with him. When the man left his house 3 days later Ronan began his search for him. Ronan began collecting history, stories given to him from the people who had heard the same storyteller, some tales from other sources. It took over his life because he felt pulled to the history of his people. So this book is unique in that there is a main storyline beginning in 1951 and choronicalling the story of this young man. But there is another story in there, the story of Ireland herself. Through this wonderful storyteller, Ronan, a history teacher, and other voices, the reader is given the chance to explore the history of this magical country.

All I can begin to say is that this book was truely amazing! I think I loved every little thing about it, so bare with me as I begin my review of such a wonderful work of literature.

The story: The collection of tales interwoven throughout the novel are fantastic. At one point the Storyteller admits that each of the tales he tells is at least slightly embellished through retelling, memory, a little padding for effect. Even so, as a reader, I wanted to believe every little word; even the story of St. Patrick whom I do not like because of the real story behind him. I was inclined to love the tale of this man though I have come to dislike him!
Then there is the story underneath, the tale of young Ronan O'Mara! I was fascinated by his dedication to find the man he had only known for three days when he was nine. I felt each moment of elation as he got so close to finding him, and then the moments of great dissappointment when he came back with an empty hand. And the twists in this boy's story are just unbelievable, yet I was given the ability to simply accept them because it all really happened, right?

The voices: I read some of this book out loud to my daughter who simply likes the sound of words. As I read I often times found myself getting into character with each person who was speaking, knowing when they would be rushing through words, when to shout, when to stutter. These characters and their voices came to life for me. There is a chapter about a third of the way through the book that is told from the point of view of a professor. Within two sentences I knew it was, it sounded like a man standing in front of a lecture hall talking, waving his arms about, pacing the front row, speaking to eager young minds. I could see him. I read this chapter in my mind and I had the voice of this professor. Through nearly all the book my mental voice held an Irish accent! At one point I even found myself reading one of the little mini-stories out loud to Livia in an accent! These characters were very much alive for me throughout this book.

Which speaks to the writing: I am now a big fan of Frank Delaney! I loved every moment reading this book. At the end I felt slightly disappointed to have to put it down. Even going so far as to close the book, hold it to my chest, and sigh at having been able to read such an amazing book. Have you ever done that? If you haven't then you have not read a masterpiece. Yes. I would go so far as to say this was a work of art. This is a book I will remember forever. It will probably be in the suitecase when I finally get the chance to visit Ireland, eager to see the country through the eyes of Ronan and the travelling Storyteller.

At the beginning of every review I place a quote from the book I have read, one that I think speaks for the book itself. It was hard with this one. While sometimes I even have to flip through the book once I am done to find a sentence because none struck me as I read, this time I have about 10 tabs marking memorable bits. I would like the chance to share the others with you now:

"As you probably know, nobody can actually write a poem. There's no such act as writing a poem. That's not how poems are made. Oh, yes, there's the physical business of pen, ink, and paper - but that isn't whence the poem comes. Nor may you send out and fetch a poem from where it's been living. No, like it or like it not, you have to wait for a poem to arrive." -p. 217

"There's an English gentleman called Chesterton, a decent fellow by all accounts, quite ample around the waist, who says that "the great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad. For all their wars are merry and all their songs are sad." He's entitled to his opinion." -p. 269

"Don't get me wrong, Father. And I'm sure every woman who ever loved a son has had this thought. They want to hold that son, feel the strength they gave to his shoulders, run their hands around the head that contains his brain, the head they gave him, stroke the cheek he has just begun to shave. And then you look into the eyes, and you see the eagerness there. Life to be devoured and all that." -p. 320

"I live by a guiding principle that I learned in Rome (of which eternal city more another time); "Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge."" -p. 325

"You can't make up history! I mean, you can - but 'tis called something else, 'tis called 'propaganda' or 'the Lives of the Saints' or 'autobiography' or something like that." -p. 399

" "The problem is, people from county Carlow are always either going somewhere or staying at home." Many times have I puzzled over his remark, but I can not make out what he meant." -p. 461-2

"After all, in some of our earliest and wildest mythologies, our gods mated with the earth, and our ancestors chose to lie in the earth after they died." -p. 566

So for those that have made it this far, I must say that through all this that I have to say about this incredible read, it does nothing in comparrison to you reading it yourself. So give the book a shot, pick it up dispite it's thickness, and walk into the story of an island filled with magic. You may not love it as much as I did, but you will not regret reading it.

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