SISTERS BY RITE by Joan Lingard


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Again, as in Marjorie Alyn's more rawly acute Sound of Anthems (1983), the conflicts in Northern Ireland are given a neighborhood/growing-up focus--this time through the all-weather friendship of three Belfast girls, 1944-1970. Lingard's narrator is Cora Caldwell, whose mother, a Christian Scientist serenely oblivious to all but ""Divine Truth"" and Love, invites the new Catholic neighbor girl--Teresa Lavery--to tea! Still, the nine-year-old girls hit it off. And soon Cora's best friend Rosie, whose family hates the Papists, proposes that the three of them become blood sisters--a rite recklessly performed with garden shears. In the ensuing years, then, Rosie's kinfolk march to the Orange drumbeat; the Lavery house bulges with offspring from Teresa's exhausted mum; and the trio--headlong Rosie, mild Teresa, and wondering Cora--moves into contrasting arenas of conflict during puberty. Cora, goaded by Rosie's flirty secrets, has a horrid sexual initiation with a dance-hall rotter--but she has always been attracted to Teresa's brother Gerard, whose reach is far beyond the family's financial grasp; and, through Mother's well-to-do and kindly co-religionist, Mrs. Hastings-Smith, Cora finds Gerard a gardening job--plus use of a library for studying, where he educates Cora about Catholic sufferings under oppression. (Cora takes her new knowledge--from its unnamed source--to Rosie's family for their answering blasts, and to her teacher's determined avoidance: ""they're all wearing blinkers."") Rosie, however, is the one who actually becomes Gerard's lover, with Cora a miserable go-between. Then Gerard is nearly killed by Rosie's militant uncles (with retribution decades later). And, in later years, Cora will be loved--and again rejected--because of those same splintering, ancient enmities. Quietly moving, with convincing regional flavor.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1984
Publisher: St. Martin's