We Dare to Dream of an Island of Equals; We Still Have the Telephone; Rebels to Reels

Reviews: The School for Good Mothers; Catch Your Breath; History of the Adriatic – A Sea and Its Civilization

We Dare to Dream of an Island of Equals by Des Geraghty (Red Stripe Press, €16.95)

This book is bursting with understatement: labour issues, politics and the arts are summarily dealt with against the backdrop of family history. Less memoir than manifesto, the two are interchangeable throughout, to good effect. Geraghty’s mise-en-scene as a young boy was the old city of Dublin, a place riddled with circumstance and character. His mother, Lily, had a passion for books and literacy that ensured her five sons devoured everything in print — especially Connolly, O’Casey and Larkin. A short epilogue hints at positivity in a better future while staying short on prescription: it leaves the reader wishing for more from Geraghty, in a less than brave new world. Colman Cassidy

We Still Have The Telephone by Erica Van Horn (Les Fugitives, 169pp, £9)

Are there any children who do not look at their parents — even when they themselves are adults — with a mixture of bewilderment and exasperation? For Erica Van Horn — as she depicts her mother in a series of short chapters — her appraisal suggests that change, however much it might improve her mother’s life, is not an option. We learn of the peculiar quirks which her elderly mother has maintained for so long that they define her. She has reached arrangements with life that are uniquely hers — having a number of clocks, all telling a different time, for example — and only the changes enforced by old age must be accommodated. Yet affection and affinity percolate through every word of this lovely book. Declan O’Driscoll


Rebels to Reels by Joseph McCabe Gallowglass, HB €31.99; PB €24.99)

This is a meticulously researched biography of Monaghan-born Daniel McGovern, who became a pioneering United States Air Force combat cameraman. His father was an RIC sergeant and part one recounts incidents during the War of Independence. The family emigrated to the US and McGovern immersed himself in photography, becoming a USAF cameraman. Following Pearl Harbor, he was designated photographer/cameraman to President Franklin Roosevelt and trained the first cadre of second World War air force cameramen, before deploying to Europe and flying dangerous combat missions there. Among the first Americans into Japan after the Japanese surrender, he filmed the immediate devastating aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — harrowing footage suppressed by the US government for decades. Further filming included atomic-test detonations and UFO investigations. A fascinating visual witness to so many major historical events. Brian Maye

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (Heinemann, £12.99)

A page-turner and a literary feast, The School for Good Mothers raises uncomfortable questions about parenting, particularly the pressures of perfectionism on modern mothers. Fida Liu adores her toddler daughter, Harriet, but struggling to meet deadlines and reeling from her divorce, she leaves her daughter to pick up a file from work; it would only be an hour, what could go wrong? The answer is everything. The state intervenes and, along with other mothers deemed unfit, Frida is forced to enrol in a government programme where she is re-educated in how to care for her daughter. With traces of Klara and the Sun in its themes of humanity and love, and a delicious, dark, dystopian setting, the book is an indictment of the Olympian expectations placed on mothers, written with biting humour, depth and tenderness. Ruth McKee

History of the Adriatic — A Sea and Its Civilization by Egidio Ivetic (Polity, £25)

University of Padua historian Egidio Ivetic calls the Adriatic “the sea of convergences”, a “maritime corridor” where for centuries the Latin West encountered the Greek and later Ottoman East, with often calamitous, always world-altering consequences. As well as wide reading, he draws on family memories, shipboard experiences and antiquarian peregrinations along long-memoried littorals and under the cool domes of cathedrals to portray a zone of beauty, danger and synthesis. Greeks, Romans, Franks, Normans, Byzantines, Venetians, Hapsburgs, Slavs and many more have plied all these shores from Albania to Zadar, everywhere leaving traces and everywhere wrecks. This is a deeply interesting yet also intimate gulf, a storied sea within the greater tale of the Mediterranean — much-contested, much-trafficked waters quietly awash with epics all of their own. Derek Turner

Catch Your Breath by Ed Patrick (Octopus Books, £8.99)

If we clapped Ed Patrick he would be mortified, I think. Or he would make a wisecrack. Patrick is an anaesthetist and this is his entertaining, self-effacing, and honest memoir of studying medicine, beginning his career and holding on for dear life — in every sense of the word — in the teeth of Covid’s storm. Patrick is a stand-up comedian, too, so there are laughs aplenty (“I may fear the anus, but at least I respect it”). The pandemic pulls the book towards a darker hue, naturally, but it gives the reader an idea of what health workers have been through. I happily enjoyed this in about the same time it takes to be seen in A&E — in fact, they should hand it out there. NJ McGarrigle