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A forgettable hodgepodge of childhood memoir, travel diary, and essays on poetry. Like ancient Gaul, this book is divided into three parts—none of them quite related to others. Award-winning Irish poet and novelist McCarthy opens with childhood memories of his blind grandmother. After devoting a few pages to his upbringing in Waterford, Ireland, he jumps ahead to his college days in Cork, where he studied poetry. We—re introduced to several Cork poets, each of them obscure to most American (and Irish) readers. McCarthy next offers his opinions on Irish immigration and contemporary Irish culture. There’s nothing particularly interesting about McCarthy’s views: “Every idea I have about my country isn—t conceived for a seminar—it is, rather, a product of one way of life here, a justification for living.” Whether he’s discussing personal or public issues, McCarthy never delves very far below the surface. His best moments come when he’s describing his job as a librarian in Cork: “Bad days in a public library can be terrible: constant queues, screaming children, distraught pensioners risking broken bones to beat each other to the latest Maeve Binchy, and perhaps, the boss in a foul humour.” The book’s second part is a five-month diary of his time spent teaching Irish literature at a small Minnesota college. McCarthy’s insights about America are frustratingly few and mundane. American students are earnest, Minnesota winters are harsh, teaching is exhausting, and he misses home. The final part of the book is a collection of six essays on various Irish poets (among them Theo Dorgan, Sean Dunne, Greg Delanty). Many of the cited poets write in Gaelic, yet McCarthy quotes their poems without English translation. Lacking organization, focus, and depth, this book is a bland mixture of incompatible ingredients tossed haphazardly into a pot.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1999
ISBN: 1-874597-66-9
Page count: 200pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999