Irish novelist Ryan’s first US publication is a fine, evocative story of loss and remembrance.
Families in rural Ireland tended, in the old days at least, to be large and close-knit. In the little hamlet of Templeard, Bea Macken had five daughters—Flossie, Nora, Margaret, Ber, and Girlie—whom she and her husband raised on the Macken farm during the 1920s and ’30s. Nora, who narrates the first part of the story, had a beautiful singing voice—a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view, since it was her singing that brought her to the attention of a young priest who raped her and left her with child while she was a convent-school girl of 16. The baby was put up for adoption and that was the last Nora ever heard of it—for a while. She later moved to England and worked as a nurse, going home to the family farm for Christmas, weddings, and funerals, until her father died in 1975 and her sister Flossie (executrix of the estate) decided to sell the place off. Emptying out an old house is bound to stir memories, and Nora soon finds that hers have mingled in unimaginable ways with those of an Italian girl named Maria Stella, who grew up in a Roman orphanage in the 1930s and ’40s and had an adopted brother, Angelo, whose origins were always a mystery to her. It gives nothing away to say that Maria eventually meets up with Nora and the two discover that each of them has the answer to questions the other has been asking for a very long time. Life’s greatest mysteries, after all, are usually pretty obvious in hindsight.
A very rich tale—simply narrated, without melodrama or sentimentality—of domestic pain and family strife.