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A BOOK OF MIGRATIONS by Rebecca Solnit


Some Passages in Ireland

by Rebecca Solnit

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-85984-855-0
Publisher: Verso

Solnit (Savage Dreams, not reviewed, etc.) impressively plaits together the landscape, identity politics, and literature of Ireland in this exquisite piece of travel writing. When her uncle's research led to Californian Solnit receiving an Irish passport—the purple document with its embossed harp speaking to her of exile, colonization, emigration, heritage—she hoofed it over to the Emerald Isle. There she just followed her whims, and the result is this, ``a book of essays sequenced and shaped by my journey.'' Solnit is a shrewd and canny observer of everyday life, a student who likes to know the background, an adept at the fine art of seeing, then excavating and deciphering what she sees with a crackingly smart leftist take. She places the reader in unfamiliar positions from which to view, say, Irish literature (``a sensibility more cognizant of the arbitrariness of literary form and all the opportunities of subverting it''), or tourism (``It is the perfect industry for the information age: one of leisure, consumption, displacement, simulation''). Swift and Eliot and Heaney make appearances, as does the island's last patch of true forest; Solnit gabs with a hermitess, with nomads, with pub-goers; she gets on her feet and walks to places whose names are like incantations: Dawnuknockane, Ballydehob, the coast of Clare, the Cliffs of Moher. Everywhere there is movement—from her own love of travel, of slipping out of ``a settled destiny in pursuit of stranger fates,'' to the waves of invasion and emigration that have pressed themselves into the national mythology. Her writing can be nimble, as when she gives her political slant on an event or conjures the particular taste of a place; it can have the abstracted quality of being lost deep in thought; and rarely, it can be labored when she overconsiders some character's makeup, some landscape's disposition. Truly exceptional, a paradise for readers of travel literature.