The Irish Tongue
SOME TIME ago, John F. Russell wrote to recommend four books about life on the Blasket Islands off the west coast of Ireland. These books by inhabitants of the islands, who numbered only a couple of hundred at the height of their community (they were resettled on the mainland in the early 1950s when fishing and agriculture could no longer support the population), are our sole insight into 19th and early 20th century Irish language traditions in the gaeltacht of western Ireland.
In order to understand the importance of this small but significant treasury of Irish-language literature, one can consult a number of books on how life in the Blaskets gave birth to such a fascinating literary tradition: The Western Island (1943), by Robin Flower, recently published in paperback by Oxford; Letters from the Great Blaskets, by Eibhlis Shuilleabhain, published in 1978 by Mercier Press in Dublin (and available in the U.S.), and Island Home, by George Thomson, published by Brandon Book Publishers in 1988. Both Flower and Thomson supply a context for understanding island life. They also clarify the importance of the oral tradition in Irish literature and the reasons for committing these stories about island life to the page. STEVEN B. ROGERS Mount Rainier
The Book Lover
THE TITLE In Quest of the Perfect Book, by William Dana Orcutt (available from Ayer Publishing Co), suggests a never-ending search and a never-ending story. I found the book in 1983 while browsing though a now defunct bookshop in Washington. The title immediately sparked my bibliophile's curiosity. Indeed, the book contains accounts of Orcott's travels in 19th century Europe seeking specimens from the history of printing and book making.
Orcutt, I learned, was author of many books and an avid bibliophile. His writing warmly and elegantly covers the history of the book from Aldus Manutius to William Morris. Others of his books include The Magic of the Book (also available from Ayer), Master Makers of the Book, The Book in Italy and From My Library Walls (all three unfortunately out of print). All offer a rich, exciting look at a man's love for books. OSWALDO JIMENEZ Alexandria Island in the Sun
BECAUSE OF my father's unforeseen move to Haiti, I became a student of Haitian culture. To my surprise I discovered a rich and fascinating body of literature about the country. The first of the two books I recommend is The Comedians by Graham Greenea, available from Penguin. No other book on Haiti conveys the feelings of helplessness and meaninglessness as powerfully as this one. An accurate description of Haitian society under the Duvalier regime, it is a must for anyone interested in Haiti's cycle of misery. It is also a must for anyone preoccupied with human nature, because it is a great piece of literature.
The second book is The Magic Island, by William Seabrook (available from Paragon House), a reporter for the New York Times. The action develops just after the landing of U.S. troops in 1915. Although Seabrook is interested in Haiti's mosaic of religions and cults, particularly voodoo, they become only an excuse to understand and celebrate the Haitian mind. I love the way the book begins: "Here are deep waters, not easily to be dismissed by crying blasphemy." LAURA GIL Washington
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