In an inspirational collection of portraits, the author of Russian Voices captures the lives and experiences of the people of Northern Ireland's beleaguered Belfast, including the priests, politicians, Catholic and Protestant extremists, children, and other ordinary citizens.
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From oral historian Parker (Bird, Kansas, 1989, etc.), riveting interviews that speak to the heart of the ``Troubles'' in Belfast, where even to be neither Protestant nor Catholic is not sufficient: ``what matters is where did you begin?'' Parker learned that everything in Belfast, from your choice of camera shop to which hotel you stay in, is affected by religious affiliation. This ``need for knowledge of someone's present faith or antecedents isn't for the purpose of expressing empathy or antagonism, but purely so that...once you know whether you share common background, or you do not, you can avoid saying the wrong thing, or wrong word, to unwittingly cause offence.'' Having noted these parameters, Parker talks to a range of Belfast citizenry: Catholic and Protestant; Republican and Loyalist; IRA and RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary); clergy and laypeople; and those who concentrate on nonsectarian issues like women's rights or education. One of the most impressive is the principal of the groundbreaking Lagan Integrated College, who is trying to encourage compromise rather than the ``We must win, they must lose attitudes.'' Nearly all, whether a sixteen year-old delinquent declaring ``I'm not one for all this religious business....I'm just your ordinary thief just taking things that come my way,'' or an anguished father whose beloved daughter was killed at a roadblock by British soldiers and who believes ``unification's got to be done democratically, never through bloodshed,'' are troubled by the current situation. The responses also suggest why change will not be easy: there's the great weight of history; enormous economic problems remain; and both religious hierarchies refuse to seek common ground. A book that, with talk of peace in the time, could hardly be more timely. But it is also a sobering reminder of just how perilous and difficult the peace process will be. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
British journalist Parker incorporates extended transcripts of interviews with or statements of Belfast residents, allowing readers to experience directly their hopes and fears as they describe the impact the troubles in Northern Ireland have had on their lives. People interviewed come from all walks of life: teachers, clergy, housewives, professors, politicians, police, prisoners, military, and members of paramilitary organizations. Speaking with a bluntness that is characteristic of Belfast people, they express their strong attachment to their embattled city. In contrast to the large number of books that have focused on Ulster's history, law, violence, and politics, Parker's work is valuable in providing a bottom-up view of everyday life. However, the publisher's claim that Belfast voices are heard here for the first time is patently unfair to two other excellent books, Sally Belfrage's Living with War ( LJ 8/87) and Dervla Murphy's A Place Apart ( LJ 7/79). In addition, the idiosyncratic bibliography leaves off some of the very best books on Northern Ireland while including Roddy Doyle's The Van ( LJ 7/92), a terrific novel that is not, however, connected with Ulster. Still, this highly readable book is recommended for both popular and academic current events collections.
- Richard B. Finnegan, Stonehill Coll., North Easton, Mass.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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