Jan 9, 2011

Far From the Land

an Irish Memoir
by Thomas J. Rice

Far From the Land was on my bookshelf because I won it from Carrie K. in a giveaway. I'm glad that the Dare finally encouraged me to pick up this book.

Rice's memoir is about growing up in rural Ireland on a poor, rocky farm that barely sustained his family. He tells about the community spirit, neighbors coming together to help each other. About the poor schooling, running up and down the mountainsides with his friends, playing Gaelic football (quite rougher than the version of soccer I'm familiar with!), working with his neighbor's fabulous Arabian horses, passion for music and dance, many things. Being the only son and sole child remaining at home when his older sisters all emigrated, he quit school at an early age to help his mother on the farm (his father being mostly absent) and worked hard to make it a more prosperous place. But eventually he realized that there wasn't much future on such poor land, and convinced his mother to sell everything so they could move to America. After seeing how tightly knit their community was, and how much pride they took in working the land, it was heartbreaking to see them pull up their roots and leave it all behind. Their first stop in Sheffield, England where one of his sisters had a boarding house, was much more difficult than they'd imagined, but young Rice (only seventeen) and his mother persisted in following their dream against all obstacles. The book is about more than just his family and experiences growing up. There's also quite a lot of Irish history, which I pretty much unfamiliar with, so the first few chapters were a bit difficult to get through. But eventually I came to see how all the legends, heroes and tales kept alive in ballads and oral memories were an integral part of the people's character, and shaped what they were even though the events were several generations past. Rice's own mother was involved in the Irish Civil War of 1922 and quite the local hero; everyone looked up to her and she really was an amazing woman. I really enjoyed reading this memoir. It was thoughtful, colorful, poignant and humorous at times. Full of unforgettable characters and wonderful tales. I'm anxious to see if Rice writes another book about his experiences in America someday...

Rating: 4/5 ......... 358 pages, 2009

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Literary Feline said...

I am not overly familiar with Irish history, but I do have some interest in it. Having some Irish blood running through my veins helps with that, no doubt. :-) This sounds like an interesting book. I'm especially curious about Rice's mother's story.

Caspette said...

This sounds interesting. Might have to keep my eye out for it.

Bybee said...

I love Irish history.

Jenny said...

I'm Irish-descended, so I always feel guilty for not knowing (or being terribly interested in knowing) more about Irish history. Only it's all so depressing and full of potatoes, I can't face it.

Eva said...

This sounds quite interesting, and what a stunning cover!

Jeane said...

Literary Feline- The first chapter or so of the book is all about his mother's upbringing, emigration to America and return to Ireland. It's pretty amazing. Becomes clear very quickly why his family was so respected in the community, even though they had the poorest farm.

Caspette- It's definitely one to look out for.

Bybee- Do you know a lot about it? This was pretty much my first exposure beyond what little I got in school.

Jenny- Well, this book isn't all that depressing, although the next two on my shelf- one about mental illness in Ireland and the other a novel simply called Famine- look like they might be!

Eva- I wish my copy had that cover, but the book Carrie sent me was an ARC so it's pretty blank. Not that I'm complaining! Still loved the read.

Carrie K. said...

I'm so glad that you enjoyed it! I had the same thought about hoping he writes his continuing memoir about his time in America.

Susan said...

I just joined the Ireland reading challenge, and being part-Irish too, your book couldn't have been read at a better time for me! I'm glad you really enjoyed it too.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an enjoyable memoir. I don't really know much about Irish history but it is one of those settings that always fascinates me.

Jeane said...

Carrie- Yes. I was a bit disappointed when I realized he became a professor and not a veterinarian; I was hoping to read someday about his experiences training as a vet in America!

Susan- This book would be great for that challenge.

Carolsnotebook- I've always thought Ireland was a beautiful place (from photos I've seen) and loved learning more about its history and people.