Browser: Jan Carson’s caravan of intriguing characters

Brief reviews of The Last Resort by Jan Carson, This Road of Mine by Seosamh MacGrianna, Kololo Hill by Neema Shah, Where Grieving Begins by Patrick Magee, De Valera and Roosevelt by Bernadette Whelan, Narendra Modi by Mihir Bose

The Last Resort
by Jan Carson
Doubleday Ireland

The Last Resort has Jan Carson's hallmark combination of pithy Northern-Irish wit, profoundly imagined characters, spiced with the off-kilter and deliciously mad. Everyone has lost something in Antrim's SeaCliff Caravan Park, which is past its glory days. Now it houses a cast of complex people all grappling with private dramas and histories; while little Alma, an Agatha Christie enthusiast, tries to solve a mystery. Here we have retired RUC man Frank, blind from the car bomb that killed his teenage daughter Lynette decades ago, who he still mourns; hardwired religious Kathleen trying to accept her gay daughter; homeless Lithuanian Vidas, and failed illusionist Malcolm, trying to lift his world one more time. These stories gleam alone or can be read in sequence to experience a whole vision: a work of great empathy and imagination. Ruth McKee

This Road of Mine
by Seosamh MacGrianna, trans. Mícheál Ó hAodha
Lilliput Press

The translation of Mo Bhealach Féin, by the Donegal writer Seosamh MacGrianna, offers an account of his life as a marginalised figure who chose the precarity of the road and the company of tramps over a pensionable job. Ó hAodha’s fine translation respects both the spirit and the letter of the text. In a translator’s note, he compares MacGrianna’s work with George Orwell’s, no doubt for its sharp-eyed observations and acerbic commentary. Yet this comparison does not do justice to the poetic tone of the text. MacGrianna’s familiarity with Irish poetry and legends ensures that the text includes many references to heroic figures and quotations from the poems of his illustrious Ulster forerunners, endowing the text with a quality Kerouac would not shun. Cliona Ní Riordain

Kololo Hill
by Neema Shah

In early August 1972 the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin decreed the expulsion of his country's Asian population, giving them just 90 days to perform a mass exodus. Neema Shah's debut charts the experiences of one family's flight from Kampala to London, and the emotional and physical trauma of starting over in an entirely new world. From the outset, this focus on family is one of the novel's many strong points. Shah writes lyrically and convincingly about the interior lives of her characters, and realities they now face. Asha and Pran are newlyweds and must finds ways to cope as their Ugandan dreams shatter. For Pran's mother, Jaya, the exodus removes her from the only life she has ever known. Ultimately, this is a novel about home, about belonging and exile; a compelling and complex insight into a recent past that still resonates. Becky Long

Where Grieving Begins
by Patrick Magee
Pluto Press

Following a peripatetic youth, Magee hits his story's stride upon returning home to Belfast at the beginning of the 1970s and joining the IRA. The language of resistance follows, with plenty of insight into its costs, moving gradually towards words and feelings of a different distillation after Magee's release from prison and his befriending Jo Berry, whose father was killed by the IRA in the Brighton bombing. This will make for uncomfortable reading regardless of your position on the Northern Ireland conflict. It's an important book, allowing us to hear a voice that was part of the Troubles and the IRA campaign of violence. Only by hearing such voices will we shape our understanding into some kind of order and reconciliation as peace comes dropping slow. NJ McGarrigle

De Valera and Roosevelt
by Bernadette Whelan
Cambridge University Press

This is a comprehensively researched account of the diplomatic activity between Dublin and Washington in the 1930s. De Valera was unwilling to accept that the US "special relationship" was with London and not Dublin. This added to the challenge for the nascent Irish diplomatic service which nevertheless managed to make an impact in the US despite being limited in size and resources. The US diplomats in Ireland had an easier time. Some took advantage of the hunting, shooting and fishing opportunities which were offered though their reports generally show a good grasp of the political happenings in Ireland at the time. Seán Donlon

Narendra Modi: the Yogi of Populism
by Mihir Bose
Bite-Sized Books

Narendra Modi's rise from tea seller to Indian prime minister is described in this brief analysis, where he is portrayed as a populist whose methods predated Donald Trump in the US and Boris Johnson's Brexit campaign. Modi's template was to convince enough people they'd lost their country and needed to do something radical to regain it. He exploited the latent anti-secularism of India's Hindu majority to reverse the Nehru legacy and Bose shows how skilfully he did this in a subtle, hands-off way. His anti-Muslim measures, his rewriting of history and his micromanaging and curbing of the media all feature in this highly readable account. Brian Maye

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