Review of Books

Recently published books of Irish and Irish American interest.

By Irish America Staff
October / November 2015

NON-FICTION

All in the Cooking

By Josephine B. Marnell and Nora M. Breathnach and Ann A. Martin and Mor Murnaghan

For those of us who grew up in Ireland in the latter half of the 20th century, the bible of the Irish kitchen was All in the Cooking.  First published in 1946, the official textbook of Coláiste Mhuire Cookery School in Dublin, it quickly became a mainstay in Irish households and domestic science classes and was popular well into the 70s.

It was the first Irish cookbook (with one or two exceptions, cookbooks available to Irish public were published abroad), and it covered everything a home cook needed to know ­– from soup to sauces to fish and meat dishes, breads, cakes and desserts ­– it was Ireland’s answer to Julia Child ­– before Julia Child ever hit the American airways.

Not only did it offer great recipes aimed at the Irish palate ­– soda bread, apple tart and jam tarts (my own speciality was Coconut Buns), it offered advice on planning meals and organizing your kitchen.

All in the Cooking, is more than a recipe book, it has an emotional connection for all of us Irish baby boomers who learned to cook at the kitchen table. An original copy is priced on Amazon at $199.99. My mother’s well-worn, batter-stained copy has long disappeared (I have my suspicions about which family member has secreted it away), and for years I’ve been searching for a replacement copy at an affordable price.

I’m not alone.

A site called boards.ie has posted many requests for information on obtaining a copy, including this one from someone with the user handle Edengarden: “Hi my mother has been looking for a cookbook she used in school in the 60s called All in the Cooking ­– Coláiste Mhuire. Does anyone know where I could get a copy?”

Yes, Edengarden. I do.

I’m happy to share the news that All in the Cooking has been reprinted, with the same familiar black and white tiled cover and a foreword from the original co-author Anne A. Browne, now in her 97th year.

The new edition is the perfect gift for those who fondly remember it from their childhood, but more than that it’s a great resource for the modern day cook with simple nourishing recipes, and wonderful tidbits that speak to the past, including “An Ideal Diet” which outlines “A dietary to maintain a man in health and efficiency,” a glossary of French terms used in cookery, “Dinners for Special Occasions,” and a page on “What We Should Eat and Why.” It also comes with a handy “conversions” bookmark for measures and temperatures for U.S. users, and room for notes in the back. Enjoy and be sure to try out the recipe for Coconut Buns!

– Patricia Harty

(The O’Brien Press  / 250p / €16.99 + postage)

Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution

By Rachel Moran

Paid For, Rachel Moran’s account of her years working as a prostitute in Dublin from the ages of 15 to 22, is not solely a memoir. Clear from the start is Moran’s larger aim, to expose prostitution “for what it really is” – abuse, and a soul-destroying trap from which the women caught in it have little hope of escaping. She offers a compelling argument for the so-called Nordic model of legislation, by which purchasing sex – rather than selling it – is criminalized.

Moran writes that prostitution caused her “to believe that this was the only way for me – that I was fit for nothing else. You get submerged into prostitution on many levels, including the things it teaches you about yourself.”

The personal history she shares is harrowing. Her childhood on a Dublin housing estate with a manic-depressive, suicidal father and schizophrenic mother, both addicted to pills; her first time working Benburb Street, at age 14; her experiences in all parts of the prostitution world – street walking, brothels, stripping, porn, escort services; her increasing reliance to drugs to cope; her eventual struggle to extract herself.

It took Moran ten years to write the book, and it shows in the candor and intense self-reflection of her words. For a long time, she struggled with whether to publish her story under a pseudonym to protect herself, her son, and the rest of her family. But ultimately she decided “not to wear a mask here, not even one I like in some ways, because to take my mask off is my way of confronting shame and daring it to do the same thing. That is why I’ve decided to tell the world my name is Rachel Moran.”

– Sheila Langan

(W.W. Norton / 320p / $15.95)

Where the Bodies Are Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him

By T.J. English

It’s a fair question to ask if the world really needs another Whitey Bulger book. Even before the release of the Hollywood film Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp, the South Boston Irish godfather had become something of a publishing niche unto himself. And that doesn’t even include the books written by or about lesser-known Bulger “associates” such as Kevin Weeks, Johnny Martorano or Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.

So when you pick up Where the Bodies Are Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him, you might be tempted to think it’s just another look at this criminal mastermind who manipulated FBI agents such as John Connolly into looking the other way as Bulger went about committing crimes.

But author T.J. English has something much more important to say.

“I did not believe that [disgraced FBI agent John] Connolly was a totally innocent man,” writes English, who attending the Bulger trial before writing Where the Bodies Were Buried.

“But there was in the government’s pursuit of Connolly the whiff of an attempt to make him the fall guy for the entire system’s corrupt relationship with Bulger.”

Indeed, while English does an excellent job of analyzing Bulger’s blood-soaked rise to power, as well as his many years on the run from the law, it is his analysis of how the federal government prosecuted Bulger that raises the most unsettling questions.

In short, English argues that the lawmen behaved nearly as badly as the gangsters they were charged with putting away.

The long-time practice of using criminals as informants comes under particularly withering criticism in English’s book. Not only has this encouraged FBI agents to indulge their own criminal dark sides, but, according to English, it has corrupted officials at the highest levels of law enforcement.

“It was my hope that the People of the United States v. James J. Bulger would be a final accounting of the entire Bulger scandal, not only laying out the full cast of characters that had enabled Bulger…but also delving into the historical antecedents that had helped create Bulger in the first place,” English writes.

But after sitting through the trial and interviewing key players, English was left with a much more damning conclusion: “(T)he policies that created Whitey Bulger are still in place.”

English, the author of impressive Irish American true crime books such as The Westies and Paddy Whacked, has ultimately written a fine – and possibly more disturbing – companion volume to the movie Black Mass.

– Tom Deignan

(William Morrow / 448p / $28.99)

FICTION

The Mark and the Void

The Mark and the Void

By Paul Murray

There are two types of people who will read Paul Murray’s highly ambitious new novel – those who have worked, or do work, in the finance industry, and those who haven’t. At almost 500 pages, the novel is a deep dive into the recent history of the financial crisis, set in post-2008, but pre-Ireland bail-out, Dublin. Though this isn’t Joyce’s Dublin of Dubliners or Ulysses, it’s the gleaming International Financial Services Center that “operates almost as a private fiefdom,” Murray writes, and is filled with “people who are paid not to be themselves.” In other words, removed from the city and its locals, but connected to a global virtual economy.

One of these people, Claude Martingale, is the novel’s narrator, a French immigrant working for the Bank of Torabundo (the “national” bank of a small, almost uninhabited Pacific island whose headquarters are in Dublin). In this, he is representative of the contemporary global citizen, operating without national borders and following market plans instead of city grids. Because of this, Claude is being followed and shadowed by Paul, a writer who wishes to write the next Ulysses (his words) based on the financial industry to “show its humanity.”

This set-up is the crux of the book – stereotyped notions of both writers and bankers: the writer who wants to make it big after his first book underperformed, and the banker who feels he must defend his profession, and is skeptical of flattery, but willing to indulge outside interests. Parts of the novel rely too heavily on such stereotypes, and what seem clichéd perceptions of the finance industry at this point. (“If you do it in the bookies, it’s a bet … If you pay some 23-year-old in an Armani suit two hundred grand to go to the window for you, it’s a derivative,” says one character.) But overall, Murray, whose 2010 novel Skippy Dies was shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards, offers us a funny, exaggerated, well-paced periscope into the globalized world of everything from derivatives to start-ups.

– Adam Farley

(Farrar, Straus & Giroux / 480p / $27)

Thirteen Ways of Looking

Thirteen Ways of Looking

By Colum McCann

In a his first collection of short fiction in over a decade, award-winning author Colum McCann brings together a novella and three short stories in his new book, Thirteen Ways of Looking.

These stories are filled with characters riddled with nostalgia, who must grapple with everyday struggles, human foibles, loss, and displacement.

In the title story, the reader travels vicariously from past to present, to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Ireland, and back again through the reflections and ruminations of a wizened New York judge. McCann bends time further when he reveals early on in the story that the reader is peering in on the final moments before the judge meets his untimely end. This revelation is particularly effective, providing an extra layer of importance to the intimate glimpse into this old man’s life and mind. Suspenseful yet sensitive to the trials of old age and the tragedies of life, this novella is an engrossing achievement all on its own.

In “What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?” an unnamed narrator-cum-author explores the meaning of family, separation, death, and war, while simultaneously struggling to find a way to write it. In “Sh’khol,” the story of a single mother whose deaf son disappears at sea, Irish literary tropes and legends unexpectedly emerge alongside prose laced with Hebrew and the Irish language, while in “Treaty,” an aging nun battles with the meaning of grace as she faces the man who once kidnapped, tortured, and raped her.

Though the stories and characters from these stories are disparate, their commonalities still manage to emerge, demonstrating McCann’s acumen for writing with a sense of understanding and empathy for many of life’s most difficult quandaries.

– R. Bryan Willits

(Random House / 256p / $26)

 

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