I still associate the smell of celery with the storm that broke over Missolonghi--as described by Andre Maurois--a few moments before Byron's death."" As a girl, Dervla Murphy learned to slice vegetables without looking, so She could read at the same time--only one odd feature of an upbringing that could hardly be termed normal, even in rural Ireland. By twelve she'd begun writing, an avocation that had been pursued unsuccessfully by her librarian father for deacdes. Then, in early adolescence, she was withdrawn from school to spend the next 17 years as nurse, companion, and maid to a strong-willed mother of a somewhat baroque intellectual bent (given to pondering such questions as ""Was Tolstoy technically a sadist?""). An unusual family to begin with--as emigrants from Dublin, they reversed the usual flow--the Murphys of Linsmore blended with neither the Anglo-Irish gentry nor the local farmers and tradesmen. And with their psychological isolation intensified by Mrs. Murphy's illness, it was inevitable that the relationship between mother and daughter would shatter. ""Down in the unconscious,"" Dervla Murphy writes, ""frustration and resentment must have been accumulating like pus."" The carefully charted shift, as the years pass, from tension through hostility to a final break is the centerpiece of the book. Less dramatic, but perhaps even more poignant, is the author's account of her alienation from her father: ""A great sadness underlay our relationship, an awareness that somehow we had failed each other and that what now existed was merely a civilized facade to conceal failure."" When both parents finally died within 18 months of each other in the early 1950s, Dervla Murphy promptly got on her bicycle and rode to India--and into a belated, backlogged career as a travel writer. She introduces herself here with spirit and sensitivity in a story that, despite its Irish provenance, could happen anywhere.