By Kathryn Miles
Free Press, $26.00, 238 pages
Imagine that overnight your primary food source has almost instantly transformed into black sludge. Noxious fumes from the blight fills the air as you soon learn that the entire country has been afflicted, as well as reports from abroad. After months and years of increasing starvation, malnutrition, violence and poverty, the only refuge appears to be emigration on a so-called coffin ship with odds that you and your family will not survive the dirty, cramped voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
“As far as they were concerned, the growing crisis in Ireland was a result of the grossly primitive nature of the Irish people, who had grown slothful and indolent. The famine, though clearly unfortunate, was an opportunity to correct that once and for all. Those unwilling to work would perish; those capable of industry and self-reliance would find their way— and without help of the government.”
Government corruption, capitalistic greed and discrimination—not the natural disaster itself— made the Irish Potato Famine into the great tragedy recalled from history class. Among the well-researched grisly horrors, Kathryn Miles shows through one family and one ship’s intermingled biographies that with luck, a little money, a quality ship, an experienced captain, a trustworthy first mate, an on-board competent doctor and a hardworking crew that happy endings were possible and that there could have been more, making All Standing: The Remarkable Story of Jeanie Johnston, the Legendary Irish Famine Ship a very relevant tale today.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins