It’s been a tough week for me, an old friend departed these shores for good, when he and his family decided to emigrate to the North-western United States. Over two hundred years ago there’d have been a “living wake” at docks, before they boarded a ship, safe in the knowledge we’d never see each other again. Times have changed, emigrants to the US from Ireland don’t have to endure a four-week passage in a “Coffin Ship” but hop across the pond in a journey that can take hours. I don’t know when I’ll see him again, but unlike our predecessors, it will be sometime in the future; he’ll return for a holiday, or I’ll head across to see him. It was quite ironic that while this was happening, I was reading this month’s book review which is all about emigration, lost families and researching your past. The book is The Letter Home by Rachael English and is published by Headline ( http://www.headline.co.uk ) on the 21st July 2022.
When journalist Jessie Daly loses everything she holds dear, she heads home to the West of Ireland, and helps a friend researching life during the famine. She soon unearths the heart-breaking story of a brave young mother, Bridget Moloney and her daughter, Norah. Meanwhile in Boston, Kaitlin Wilson is researching her family tree, in doing so she discovers the fascinating story of a young mother on the West Coast of Ireland who made a difficult decision, to either watch her young daughter perish or set out to make a new life in the new world. All revealed through a letter home.
From the opening page, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable and at times emotional read. I was spellbound by Bridget’s story and both Jessie and Kaitlin’s journey of discovery from either side of the Atlantic to its amazing conclusion. What English brings to the table is a story of emigration stretching from the famine era right through the troubled eighties, and even includes the spectre of modern emigration and slavery. Her research opened my eyes to misconception that America or Bostonians welcomed the Irish with open arms.
As well as that she has imbued within the story the modern fascination of genealogy, something we’ve dipped our toes into in this household, and like most people found fascinating with the success of programmes like Who Do You Think You Are.
But overall, this 500-page work from an icon of Irish current affairs radio, is a standout read of the summer, which will be, if not already, a staple of book groups over the coming months. Don’t get put off by the page length, it’s needed for English to weave a thoroughly engrossing and heartfelt story, which as it says on the cover, is inspired by real events. Two million people emigrated from Ireland to America as a result of the famine between 1845-1851, so there’s a lot of material to choose from. In an author’s note at the back of the book Rachael outline’s where she did her research and provides information for anyone willing to follow in Jessie and Kaitlin’s footsteps.
This is Irish author and RTE Journalist Rachael English’s (@Englishrachael ) sixth book, the others are, Going Back (2013), Each and Everyone (2014), The American Girl (2017), The Night of The Party (2018), The Paper Bracelet (2020). She is one of the main presenters on Ireland’s most popular radio programme “Morning Ireland”, during more than twenty years as a journalist, she has worked on most of Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE’s current affairs programmes.
As I was waking up this morning and thinking of what to say in this piece, Rachael’s dulcet tones came over my alarm clock radio, as they do on a regular basis. Also, my research revealed she was born in Lincolnshire in the UK, where I was married, and my mother-in-law resides. I also worked with her husband, when he was a manager for his family’s chain of Irish retail stores.
So, if you’re stuck for a book club choice, join me in putting it on the list, then write a note to your local book shop to reserve a number of copies, download them, or order online, and settle in for a lovely story of courage and discovery from the pen of one of Ireland’s leading broadcasters.
Reviewed by Adrian Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the others thought of the book, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.