Review of Books
Two new books chart U2’s four-decade rise from Dublin to superstardom. They both remind you what an incredible journey it has been. First there is U2 by U2 (told by the band with the help from manager Paul McGuinness and author Neil McCormick), which promises a revealing and an unprecedented look at the band from within its inner circle. The photographs from the band archive are eye-opening, but the real story that never fails to astonish is the simple story of how four teenagers from Dublin’s Mount Temple School came to dominate the music world. Legend has it that the lads met in a crowded kitchen to talk about forming a band, even though their equipment was battered and their skills questionable. In addition, nobody wanted to be the lead singer. Eventually, they became a punk band, evolved when New Wave became a fad in the early 80s, garnered a cult following and then exploded in the mid-1980s with the American-blues tinge of The Joshua Tree. That alone would make for a great story, but the story of how they stayed on top of the world – appearing on the cover of Time magazine nearly 20 years later – is equally compelling. ($39.95/352pages/ Harper Entertainment)
Also available in America now is Visnja Cogan’s U2: An Irish Phenomenon, a more straightforward version of the U2 story, focusing on more of the band’s conflicts, particularly Adam Clayton’s battle with drinking which nearly broke up the group.
($34.95 / 280 pages / Dufour)
Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran was already a best-selling sensation in Europe, and seems very topical in its look at multicultural Ireland. Pomegranate Soup follows the Iranian Aminpour sisters, Marjan, Bahar and Layla. They escaped their revolution-wracked native land for the safety of London, and then Ballinacroagh, Mayo. Not all of the locals are exactly thrilled that these (in the words of the village bully) “fecking foreigners” have descended upon their village. But the Aminpour sisters open a bakery specializing in Persian pastries and soon the whole village is craving the tasty treats. In the meantime, young Layla falls in love, but that only begins to complicates things. Indeed, the harmony does not last as the past comes back to haunt the Aminpour sisters. True, Pomegranate Soup is predictable at times, with its stock cast of village Irish characters (the kindly, comic priest, the widow, the incurable gossip, the village idiot/racist). Still, the story is a good one, and Mehran uses food to almost magic-realist effect. It’s worth noting that the story has autobiographical touches. Born in Iran just before the Revolution of 1979, the Mehran family fled to Argentina where her parents ran a Middle Eastern restaurant. So, why isn’t this novel set in South America? Well, Mehran married an Irishman, and their subsequent visits to his native land may have influenced the setting of Pomegranate Soup.
($13.95 / 240 pages / Random House)
The stories in Bernard MacLaverty’s new collection Matters of Life and Death range in length from a few pages to over 50. The settings also run from the violent Belfast of the 1970s right up to the present day. But what MacLaverty (whose earlier book Grace Notes was short-listed for the Booker Prize) brings to each of these eleven stories is an intense feel for Irish life and humanity. Suffice it to say, the title of this collection is aptly chosen. What may seem like small problems always seem to become grave issues in MacLaverty’s fictional universe. The opener “On the Roundabout” seems like something out of Flannery O’Connor – initially mundane, ultimately bloody. Also unforgettable is the 11-year-old thief at the center of the darkly comic “Trojan Sofa.”
($23.95 / 192 pages / W.W. Norton)
Readers have a right to be suspicious when they learn a few facts about Every Visible Thing, the fourth novel by Lisa Carey. First of all, the family at the book’s center is named Furey, which could seem an almost too-obvious warning of rage below the surface. Or is this an unsubtle nod to the Furies of Greek myth? Then, the father of the Furey family is a theology professor, which begs us to ask: Is he going to maintain his faith in the face of the tragedy which propels this book? That aside, however, Every Visible Thing is an insightful read from an Irish-American author who is building an impressive career in fiction. Carey’s previous books include The Mermaids Singing, In the Country of the Young and Love in the Asylum. The traumatic family drama of Every Visible Thing could be the book that takes Carey to a different readership level. The book chronicles the fallout of one harrowing event which haunts the Furey family: Back in the 1980s, teenager Hugh Furey simply left home and never returned, shattering the lives of his parents as well as his brother and sister. The remainder of Every Visible Thing outlines how each family member copes. Carey’s strength is that, despite the explosive event at the novel’s center, the real drama of the book comes from the seemingly everyday struggles the Furey family encounters – school, marriage, faith and young love.
($24.95 / 320 pages / Morrow)
Learning a little bit about author Michael Collins is enough to, well, make you hate him for being so talented. Born in Limerick, he came to the U.S. to attend Notre Dame on an athletic scholarship. He went on to work at Microsoft, then train as an extreme athlete, which sent him off to events such as the North Pole Marathon and Everest Marathon, where athletes compete at temperatures below zero. Oh yeah, and he writes, too, winning the Irish Novel of the Year with his past effort Keepers of Truth. His latest effort, Death of a Writer, is part detective story, part philosophical investigation into literary creativity. If that sounds unwieldy, it’s not. The book follows E. Robert Pendleton, who has yet to match the literary success that came early in his career. Despondent, he attempts suicide, fails, and befriends a graduate student who discovers an old manuscript of Pendleton’s. When that manuscript is published (without Pendleton’s knowledge) it raises questions about an unsolved murder that Pendleton may or may not have committed. Some readers may not appreciate the comedy of academic life depicted here, but the book eventually becomes a full-blown murder mystery with tidbits of philosophizing. It’s the kind of tour de force you’d pretty much expect from the likes of Michael Collins.
($24.95 / 320 pages / Bloomsbury)
John Boyne’s first novel for young adults, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, is a fine read for adults also. At the book’s start, the main character Bruno makes a discovery. He has come home from school to find the family’s maid standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he’d hidden at the back and were nobody else’s business. Bruno’s father is an officer with the Nazis. The family is moving to Poland, near a concentration camp. Of course, Bruno has no idea what is going on, but he is made uneasy by the site of hundreds of people (imprisoned Jews) wearing those striped pajamas alluded to in the tile. Curiosity about his dad’s job sends Bruno to the camp, where he meets a Jewish boy who happens to have the same birthdate. A friendship – a tragic one, of course – ensues. Dubliner John Boyne has written a terrifying, yet moving book for all readers.
($15.95 / 224 pages / Random House)
It’s been dubbed a uniquely intimate portrait of John F. Kennedy, Jr., from his closest friend, and that pretty much tells you all you need to know. Forever Young by William Sylvester Noonan is either a book you will swallow in one sitting or will throw against the wall, as you wonder why you wasted your time. The two Irish-Americans became friends growing up in Hyannisport, Massachusetts. Both, it turns out, had lost their fathers at a very young age. Forever Young (which has already been blasted by some Kennedy family members) offers new details about John’s courtship of Carolyn Bessette as well as his relationship with Jackie. There is also, of course, the sad account of the plane crash that killed John, Carolyn, and Carolyn’s sister.
($25.95 / 256 pages / Viking)
For decades Mary McGrory was a fixture in Washington, one of the most respected columnists in the business. Fellow journalist Phil Gailey never succeeded in talking the Boston-born McGrory into publishing a compilation of her best work. So he took her advice (“You do it when I’m gone”) and helped put together The Best of Mary McGrory. Containing over 100 columns spanning the past half-century, McGrory touches upon the McCarthy era, President Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Bill Clinton’s sex scandal in this collection. McGrory was an unapologetic liberal who began her career at the Boston Herald, and moved to the Washington Star in 1947, where she remained for nearly 35 years. In 1974, she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her columns on Watergate. In 1981, she joined the Washington Post, where she remained until her death in 2004.
($24.95 / 352 pages / Andrews McNeel)
If you haven’t been to Ireland yet, The Museums of Ireland: A Celebration is a great introduction to nearly 80 galleries and museums all over the island. Perhaps most interesting about this book is that it includes information about smaller facilities such as the Sheelin Irish Lace Museum in Fermanagh and the Irish Agricultural Museum in Wexford. Of course, the big names such as the National Gallery, The Hugh Lane Gallery and Hunt Museum are also included in this lavishly illustrated, informative book.
($26.95 / 247 pages / Dufour)
From the Mountains of Mourne to the Giant’s Causeways, and Fermanagh’s lake district, Northern Ireland offers rugged mountain peaks and spectacular coastal scenery, and one of the best ways to see it is to take a walking tour. In Northern Ireland: A Walking Guide, Helen Fairbairn has written a guide to the best routes, from challenging hill walks to shorter woodland and waterside excursions. Routes vary from two-hour strolls to eight-hour upland challenges.
(The Collins Press / 235 pages / $19.95 / Dufour. Info@dufoureditions.com)