Book Review: A Book Of Migrations

A Book Of Migrations:  Some Passages In Ireland, by Rebecca Solnit

This book was mercifully short, but frustrating to read.  There are times in this book where I wondered if the author would become self-aware, but sadly, such moments never came.  It is not as if the opportunities for self-awareness were not there, as the author writes about numerous aspects of Irish life and her own travels and reflections, and there are some occasions where these travels would appear to present opportunities for reflection and maturity, but the moments pass with the author venting her spleen against men, imperialism, the Roman Catholic Church, and other fashionable leftist targets.  Perhaps the authors screed against tourism would have discouraged her from becoming an expatriate leftist?  Nope.  Perhaps her realization of the disconnect between Irish history as it happened and as it is viewed by the Irish would lead her to be less inclined to support various neo-pagan leftist views?  Nope.  Perhaps her qualification for Irish citizenship by virtue of her blood tie would lead her to be more understanding of the legitimacy of benign forms of nationalism?  Nope.  The author appears content in her inconsistencies and convinced of her rightness of perspective, and reality has not yet been strong enough to disabuse her of these illusions.

This book consists of seventeen essays that average around ten pages apiece.  The author talks about her pilgrimages in Ireland and the people she meets on planes, compares tourism to invasion (2), comments (with some mockery) on the way that the alphabet is often learned through a reference to animals (3), looks at the treason and homosexuality of Sir Roger Casement (4) and his noted fondness for collecting butterflies (5).  She talks about beggars (5), claims that Ireland is like an anchor in her road as she deals with the tension of traveling and settling (6), examines the tension of identity of the Scot-Irish and Irish (7, 9, 10), the rock-based worship of early Irish people (8), looks at nationalism and the issue of blood (11), talks about rock collecting (12), praises liberal Catholic environmentalism (13), talks about the political radicalism of bardic poetry (14), praises the activism of LGBT Irish in seeking to march in Irish and Irish-American parades (15), praises travelers who disdain settling (16), and talks about her own time in Dublin (17).  By and large, the essays are rather self-absorbed and it seems as if she is collecting experiences and seeking to bolster her own fashionable leftist perspective rather than learn from the course of her own travels, unfortunately.

Ultimately, this is a book that you will appreciate a great deal more if you agree with the author’s perspective.  I don’t, and so where others might see praiseworthy ideological commitment, I see tiresome and tedious error held tenaciously.  As is often the case in reading the writings of others, one’s perspective matters a great deal, and that is especially true of works as strident as this one.  The author seemingly leaves little opportunity unused for political benefit, whether it is in insulting the British for their imperial abuses, blaming Americans for teaching some Congolese soldiers how to torture, or talking about fears of interpentratability as leading to hostility towards someone who sought to ally with Germany in World War I in order to support Irish freedom, which was sufficient reason itself to wish for his well-earned death, even if he had served British interests in pointing out the imperial flaws of others.  Like so many volumes, though, this book boils down to politics, as the author’s own political worldview is so strident that one’s opinion of the work will rely on whether or not one agrees with her or not, and if one disagrees with her, there is very little to like about this book at all.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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