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THE DREAMS OF MAIRHE MEHAN by Jennifer Armstrong


by Jennifer Armstrong

Age Range: 11 & up

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-88152-2
Publisher: Knopf

 In this haunting, eloquent story, the barriers between inner and outer vision dissolve as a young immigrant loses the men she holds dear during the Civil War. Working as a barmaid at The Shinny, making lace by the yard in her spare time, and living in Swampoodle, a Washington, D.C. slum, Mairhe (pronounced ``Moira'') is filled with waking and sleeping dreams of her carefree, laughing brother Mike, who enlists without thinking of the effect it would have on her or their brokenhearted Da. Mairhe's days and dreams are also filled with the muddy, soldier-filled, brawling city itself: its gossip, love of contention, and sights both grand and ghastly. In between glimpses of Lincoln and repeated encounters with a slightly larger-than-life Walt Whitman, readers will get a strong sense of the febrile energy that animated (and still animates) the nation's capital, as well as a grounding in some enduring racial and political issues. Armstrong (Black-Eyed Susan, 1995, etc.) mixes vision and reality with breathtaking virtuosity--in one brilliant episode a St. Patrick's Day celebration at The Shinny is seamlessly intercut with a bloody battle being fought simultaneously miles away--salting Mairhe's narrative with poetic turns of phrase, snatches of song, story, and history. The Irish characters here are despised and displaced--having left one home behind, they have yet to find another. After Mike dies at Gettysburg, Mairhe sells her lace to buy Da passage back to Ireland, and discovers herself at last: ``bright as a star, delicate as lace, strong as a dream.'' So is her story. (Fiction. 11+)