THE ISLAND OF THE WHITE COW: Memories of an Irish Island by Deborah Tall
Kirkus Star

THE ISLAND OF THE WHITE COW: Memories of an Irish Island

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Breathtaking, magical description of the poet-author's five-year stay on a small rough island off the west coast of Ireland. In 1972, after graduating from a Midwestern university, Tall, an upper-middle-class secularized Jew from Philadelphia, is charmed into accompanying Owen, a visiting, mellifluous Irish poet-lecturer twice her age, back to Ireland and to living with him on the remote Island of the White Cow. Owen's wife and children, who'd been with him there before, could not endure the harsh, wildly stormy island life and returned to Dublin--a separation, since divorce does not exist in Ireland. What follows is Deborah's five years condensed into four seasons of a single year ("". . .time as we know it has but a shaky hold on enchanted islands""). Freedom is the island's first thrilling sensation, a marvelously acute sense of isolation and ""heady, leisurely beauty where there are no laws, only courtesies and conventions"" and where birds let you come close and stare. There are 230 weather-worn, work-stunned bitterly poor islanders. The women ""hold their arms stiffly at their sides or fold them protectively over their stomachs. . . Their mouths have hardened into fearful smiles, their hands are scarred from battling back weather from the insides of their houses. They can't meet the gaze of outsiders head-on."" In the pub, the ""men stand or sit in an awed stupor. . .their faces flushed with drink or virginity, holding fat pints of stout in their left hands as lovingly as they might the hands of women."" Beauty and ruin are everywhere, the air unmarred and invigorating. ""We float, free of definition."" After five years though, Tall tells herself ""It took freedom to come here. And it will take freedom to leave."" Winter brings bitterness, madness, death, suicide, grief. On a recent visit, Tall found the island electrified, stuporous with American nighttime television, and enjoying its first running water. The population had dwindled by 40. . . Tender witness to a lost island, its colors, its voices, its losses.

Pub Date: Jan. 27th, 1985
ISBN: 0689707223
Publisher: Atheneum