LIVING IN WAR: A Belfast Year by Sally Belfrage

LIVING IN WAR: A Belfast Year

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Though not a springy good read like Flowers of Emptiness (1980), Belfrage's latest work ably captures the current troubles of Northern Ireland and presents them on a human scale. Traveling from London once a month for a year, she found people willing to share their homes, their histories, and their points of view. What emerges from this well-paced, impressionistic multiple exposure is a real sense of the abiding issues (poverty, religious and ethnic bigotry, Direct Rule), of the people they afflict, and of the interests that confound their resolution. Although a snooker or boxing championship may unite Ireland for a day, and certain practices (no air attacks) reflect shared concerns, evidence of the hostilities are all around Belfast: the top floor of an apartment complex is a command post, metal detectors greet shoppers in department stores, and political graffiti (""Britannia waives the rules"") appear all over the bombed-out city. Children learn cautions early, and even dogs can recognize the approach of military vehicles. Many, especially most Catholics, are all too familiar with injuries, imprisonment, and inequities in the system; few Unionist or Loyalist supporters seem ready to make accommodations. Moreover, some people depend on continuation of the tensions, especially paramilitary groups which, operating as protection rackets, offer salary and benefits to men otherwise unemployed. For the most part, Belfrage seems to mingle with ease and find sources whose experiences are representative and revealing. (One unsympathetic mother says of her IRA son, ""His eyes have changed."") She has, of course, no dramatic solution to the unreconciled differences, just urgent hopes for making peace a more appealing alternative. Other authors have covered similar terrain by focusing on specific individuals or groups, or by presenting more conventional reports; Belfrage offers instead an intricately shifting picture of Belfast, rich in language and local color.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1987
Publisher: Viking