Thursday, February 23, 2006
Ireland by Frank Delaney
Frank Delaney, something of an Irish historian, has written a beautiful, fulfilling and epic novel in his latest work, Ireland. This is his first book published in the States, and I certainly look forward to seeing more from him.
Ireland begins a few years after the end of WWII in a small Irish town. It is a dark and windy night when a 9 year old boy, Ronan, sees a Storyteller coming to his house. For his whole life, he has heard the mythic legend of a storyteller - how they preserve the history of Ireland with myths, legends, real and imagined characters, and sweeping stories that enthrall all who sit by the fireside of the Storyteller's host. This old man is said to be the last of the great storytellers, as Ireland comes into the modern age.
I thought at first that the place of Ronan was simply to provide a backdrop for the wonderful stories of this old man. The stories are so engaging that one forgets the backdrop is early 1950s Ireland. I felt as if I were truly there in the original ancient stories. Yet, as the book unfolds, the reader begins to realize that the Storyteller has "chosen" Ronan to succeed him, and that the stories of Ireland - as they proceed through history - shed light on Ronan's own story as he becomes a man and seeks to follow the Storyteller. The story of Ronan (quite interesting in itself) and the story of Ireland are intertwined beautifully. The book is long, yet I was wanting to read more at its end. I didn't want the story to end.
Delaney also provides a wonderful gift in his insights about stories - how the story of Ireland and of one man's life are mirrors of our own story. The story of Ireland is a meta-story upon which we can reflect and better understand our history, our present and our future. Delaney realizes that truth, even if not always fact, is the core of a great and transforming story. He understands how a person's spirit and truth are interconnected, and that story helps us discover more of ourselves in and through the storytelling. He writes on p. 559, "The one joy that has kept me going through life has been the fact that stories write us....And the way we all see our story...that's what we own, no matter who we are and where we come from....Indeed, our story is finally all any of us own..."
It's hard to imagine a better vision for a society so fragmented and so disconnected from our own stories. This is a must read. My grade - A