, a story about the author's mother, born in the early part of the 20th century in rural Ireland and sent to Chicago at age 16, arrives into the memoir-glutted marketplace at a fitting moment. Highly praised personal accounts, such as Mary Karr's The Liars' Club
or Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes
, itself about the Irish migration, have become mired in a truth-versus-fact debate. Richard White is a historian, most widely recognized in academic circles for his book "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own": A New History of the American West
, a retelling of the American narrative that says America wasn't discovered but rather, invaded. Now come personal histories that underscore the history as much as the personal. Luc Sante's The Factory of Facts
, for one, and Rembering Ahanagran
, in which White deliberately sets out to record his mother's life, using her memories and his historian's approach to research.
Sara Walsh was born in 1919 in County Kerry, a part of western Ireland steeped in "the Troubles," recent accounts of fairy mischief, and poor folk paying rent to farm reclaimed bog land. Hope for financial salvation glistened from faraway America, where money could be made and sent home to the family in Ireland. In this, Sara's story is typical of the Irish migration. First her father, then older sister, and then Sara went to Chicago, transplanted to another small Irish world on the South Side. In fragmented scenes, Sara remembers vividly her arrival at New York harbor. But when White unearths the immigration document that records his mother's answers to standard questions, contradictions arise. Had she been cheated out of her last pound even before leaving Ireland, or did she have $50 in her pocket, as she told the immigration officer. Remembering Anahanagran is full of such discrepancies, and at times White overemphasizes the schism between memory and facts, but in the end, the book transcends the historian to become a moving memoir about an Irish beauty who lives out one particular American Dream.
From Library Journal
Calling his book an "anti-memoir," White reconstructs his mother's Irish childhood and emigration. (Review forthcoming in LJ 3/15/98)
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