"In the nineteenth century, Ireland lost half of its population to famine, emigration to the United States and Canada, and the forced transportation of convicts to Australia. The forebears of Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List, were victims of that tragedy, and in The Great Shame Keneally has written the full story of the Irish diaspora with the narrative grip and flair of a novel. Based on unique research among little-known sources, this book surveys eighty years of Irish history through the eyes of political prisoners - including Keneally's ancestors - who left Ireland in chains and eventually found glory, in one form or another, in Australia and America."--BOOK JACKET.
I may well return to this some day.
Kenealy turns his brilliance in storytelling and research to his own Irish ancestry, and this is no "Danny
There were landholders in the burgeoning Tasmanian and Australian Outback posts, including Perth, Civil War leaders (yes, on both sides), a Governor of Montana, and the rise of such movements as the Fenians. And these many stories, continuing with the Young Irelanders, is what makes this book so dense. As Keneally's ancestor lived in Van Diemen's Land, Keneally weaves in the life of other Irish conscripts forced to make a new life in a new land far from their homeland. Then he moves to Australia, prisoner escapes and the details it took to get them smuggled onboard ships, their reception by the Irish in San Francisco, their rise to prominence in New York and New York's politics, and he does not stint in the details. Some of the men were good, and some not so much: one Young Irelander became a Tennessee slaveholder, not seeing the parallels between his oppressing of other humans and his own oppression in Ireland.
I found it necessary to read a chapter at a time; others may be able to read this book at one sitting, and I salute them. It was worth the time and effort, though, that went into this book.
Plus I just finished Governess about miserable C19 people so maybe I should take a break from miserable C19 people before facing more, especially in a voice I don't like.
(He writes -- in the 1990s! -- that in the 1830s the "droit de seigneur" was still in effect in Ireland. I'm sure peasants suffered rape aplenty but I'm surer that this "right" was neither codified nor regularly practiced.)
Keneally has made great use of original sources, from which he recites at length, and he is a master at deploying particulars to convey a sense of the whole -- at times, however, one wondered whether continuously referring to one member of the diaspora as "Saint Kevin" from beginning to end was a bit laborious and I wasn't sure I needed to hear about the (sad) end of every single one of his offspring, no matter how tangential to the history.
The title and subtitle were also confusing. While Keneally attempts to explain the use of the word “shame” in an afterword, one does not sense in his retelling either shame concerning the failure to build an Irish state or survivor’s guilt. Indeed, I read more frustration than shame into these stories -- primarily at the unending streak of factionalism and backstabbing that typified every effort to launch a free Ireland in the period. As for “triumph” of the Irish in the English-speaking world, the lives told were indeed in some cases very successful and even redemptive, but as many ended in the gutter dead of alcoholism or its complications. Triumph did not seem like le mot juste for this disparate collection of lives.