By Robert Kanigel
Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95, 320 pages
On an Irish Island might be the next great Irish story. This book tells the story of The Great Blasket, a small island community off Ireland’s west coast, which for many years served as a bastion for all things Irish. During England’s rule much of Ireland lost its national pride. However the west of Ireland, and more specifically, the Blasket islands, retained their Irish pride, even continuing the habit of conversing in Gaelic. So it is no surprise when academics wanted to experience the real Ireland, they chose The Great Blasket. This book serves to tell the tales and experiences collected by those academics, and the story of the people who lived them.
When first cracking the spine of this book, it looks like any other nonfiction book. But as the reading begins the reader is pulled into a fascinating collection of tales. Instead of reporting on facts, the author takes various sources and weaves them into what feels like a collection of loosely connected short stories. Each character has their own personality and from their interactions alone the reader can tell what kind of person they would have been a hundred years before.
The only major downside to this work is the confusion between city and people names but overall this is an interesting and educational look at a part of Ireland that rarely gets much press. If you are in the mood for some interesting reading, On an Irish Island could satisfy.
Reviewed by Andrew Keyser