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A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland Paperback – 17 Jun 1998
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Truly exceptional, a paradise for readers.
"Truly exceptional, a paradise for readers."--"Kirkus Reviews"
About the Author
Rebecca Solnit is author of Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era, Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West. She lives in San Francisco.
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This is book is about a journey through Ireland, it culture, landscape and history. Therefore there are some challenging comments about the English (if you are English, like me) that I broadly agree with, but would challenge the simplicity of the logic and interpretation of how the events unfolded. However, this is another great , thought provoking book that demonstrates RS's research skills, analysis and deep, intelligent thinking; all superbly written
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"The Book of Migrations" was my spend-a-month-reading-it book this summer. And oh what a treat - rambling, discursive --Solnit writes the way Bill Clinton speaks, going off on tangents and following what seem like random thoughts, until suddenly I see connections I've been looking for. You know the expression "I don't know what I think till I hear myself say it"? There are so many things I did not know I knew till I read what rebecca Solnit wrote about it.
I'm a latecomer to Rebecca Solnit's work, ( I only read Paradise Made in Hell" last year), but what a joy to be able to go to her next book and not need to wait for her to finish writing it!
As a visitor to Ireland twice, I could appreciate the places she described in such beautiful, descriptive language, although it made me wish I would have been more knowledgeable about Irish writers like Joyce, Swift, Synge, or T.S. Eliot who impacted so much of English literature. I gave it only four stars because some of it went over my head, although that was my defect, not the author's. The notes at the end of the book show a great amount of research into each chapter.
The most interesting parts of the book for me were her encounters with the ordinary Irish people as she walked from one town to another. I also learned much about the Travellers, formerly called Tinkers, the Irish nomads who seem to be at the bottom of the social ladder in Ireland. My cousin recently told me that Tinkers had stolen the cherished mantle over the fireplace in my great-grandparents cottage that is still standing near Blarney. The author interviewed a modern Traveller family and gave me a different perspective of these nomadic people who seem to suffer from discrimination, yet want the same rights as the rest of the citizenry. Their horse-drawn wagons have been mostly replaced by modern cars pulling trailers, but still they seem to be a displaced minority that is barely tolerated in Irish society.
There is much to learn about Irish history in this book, and much of it is presented with a poet's flair. There is also much to learn by getting away from the tourist route, walking and speaking to the people you meet along the way. They have stories to tell that you won't find in the tourist guides. I'm happy the author shared them with her readers.
She blends her own background, neither Irish nor Jewish but just American, and Marin County Californian at that being a rarified species, into her reflections intelligently. I do sense much of the time that as an intellectual rather than the more usual adventure-based travel writer, she tends to look down her nose at the locals and the blow-ins both due to her more elevated level of education and scholarship. This does not weaken the insights she often makes, but it does cast her as rather a cool customer, rather removed from her environs.
But such distancing and detachment works to her advantage as she resists the stereotypical itinerary. Tellingly, she makes no effort to visit the Aran Islands, an "indigenous cultural reservation" in her estimation; she eschews the touristed haunts. If you like this, try James Charles Roy's "The Back of Beyond" for another American scholar's account a few but momentously altered years later of his days as a tour guide in the same Irish regions.