Harcourt, pap.2002, $14.00, 401 pages, ISBN 978-0-15-602966-9
It’s been so dry out here that every known frog in the state has moved to Minnesota. It’s been so dry that rattlesnakes have to carry canteens and travel in squads . . . and one of ‘em had better be a doctor. Yessir. And that’s a fact.
So, this week’s MBR No. 68 is about water. In this case it’s too much water . . . which caused crop failure and famine in Ireland during the mid to late 1840’s. A famine of such massive proportions in Western Ireland that, combined with the exportation of foodstuffs and livestock to England by absentee British landlords and the gross evictions of a tenant farmers, it caused mass starvation. It’s called the Great Famine of 1847 . . . and diaspora of the Irish peoples to Australia, Canada and the United States began. And so they sold what possessions they had, headed for the nearest part of embarkation, children in hand, old folks and relatives, the sick and the dying all left behind, while those still able-bodied enough begged, borrowed or stole their way onto the aptly named coffin-ships; sail and steam powered side-wheelers, where large numbers of them died of dysentery, typhus, or drowning . . . as many of the ships were lost at sea driving the three-week crossing.
Those of you who, like me, are proud of and interested in the Irish heritage . . . as well as the poor souls not fortunate enough to have been born Irish . . . should get their hands on and read this week’s book. It’s called Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor, an Irish writer who lives in Dublin. A New York Times notable book, it has been widely lauded in Ireland, Britain and the United States. Star of the Sea is historical fiction at it’s very best, combining meticulous research and attention to period details with a thrilling murder mystery involving a woman with a terrible secret, a bankrupt English lord and a diabolic, unknown killer bent on revenge who stalks the ship full of suffering refugees trying to make it to the promised land. Whether you’re a dedicated reader or just looking for a great yarn, I cannot recommend this one highly enough . . . it’s that damn good! One of my best books of the year.