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The Irish Famine
by Colm Toibin
ISBN 1861971443 / 9781861971449 / 1-86197-144-3
Publisher Profile Books Ltd
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Colm Tóibín's The Irish Famine is a superbly pithy account of the controversies surrounding the failure of Ireland's potato crop from 1845-1848. Moving freely between historical sources and personal reflection, Tóibín asks why existing accounts of the famine focus on statistics and government policies instead of considering the experiences of those who died, were bereaved, or emigrated during the calamity. Tóibín acknowledges the Famine's political significance but he avoids simplistic accounts of "genocide". In arguing for a more informed analysis of the crisis, he raises vital questions about the writing of history. How can we tell an "official" story without losing sight of more intimate, intensely personal tragedies? How can we write about an event which was marked by the complete erasure of its victims? One way forward is through myth. Although mistrustful of partisan versions of the Famine, the book argues that fantasies about the Famine can sometimes be as revealing as "facts". As one of Ireland's most prominent contemporary novelists, Tóibín is also well placed to deal with the literary echoes of the crisis. Indeed, it's astonishing that he manages to get so much thought-provoking material into less than a hundred pages of crisp, highly readable prose. -- Vincent Quinn [via]