Mar. 16th, 2017

osprey_archer: (books)
I found Nora Murphy’s White Birch, Red Hawthorn irritating for three main reasons.

1. This is one of those books that is neither pure memoir nor pure nonfiction but a combination of the two, and as often happens, the memoir portion is comparatively a drag. For a book that is allegedly about the importance of learning to listen (specifically to the stories of Native Americans), Murphy spends an awful lot of time talking about herself and her family history.

2. This is especially egregious because Murphy has the unfortunate habit of making shit up. She’ll start with a verifiable fact: for instance, after much digging, she discovers that her great-great-grandmother who emigrated to the US from Ireland was named Katie Hughes.

Then - and note she doesn’t have letters or a diary or any other record of Katie’s feelings, or really anything at all to go on except for Katie’s name - she writes stuff like “Still even in this silence [in a cemetery in Ireland], Katie found gifts - like the warm feeling that spread over her as they left the tombs. It was the feeling that someone was there, still watching over her after all these thousands of years.”

DID SHE NOW. I can only assume that Murphy has a telepathic connection with her great-great-grandmother that she’s too shy to cite as a source.

3. And this leads to my third frustration with the book, which is its sentimentality - in particular the weird sentimental gloss that Murphy throws over her ancestors’ life in Ireland. Murphy says things like “What I do know is that Katie didn’t thirst for her story as a child. She didn’t feel parched for connection. My great-great-grandmother’s story was woven into the very Irish landscape that reared her. She didn’t have to go out searching for a lineage.”

Well, uh, no, she was probably busy thirsting for actual food and drink, growing up during the potato famine and all. And who says she didn’t thirst for her story? She was a member of a conquered people living in a conquered land, with conquerors who were making a determined effort to stamp out her people’s language and stories. That’s not a situation that tends to give people a clear and unfettered connection to their past and their land.

To be fair, Murphy is a little better at seeing this with regard to Native Americans, presumably because she interviews living members of the Ojibwe and Ho-Chunk tribes rather than her imagined simulacrum of her great-great-grandmother and real people, unlike imaginary ones, can pull you up short.

I could go on, but at this point I’m probably beating a dead horse. Did not enjoy, do not recommend.


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