A Radical Faith The Assassination of Sister Maura

By Eileen Markey

How did a sweet young Irish American girl from the boardwalks of Far Rockaway in Queens end up in the remote gold mining towns in the mountains of Nicaragua and later in the line of fire in El Salvador’s civil war?

Maura Clarke was certainly no one’s idea of a rebel, not even her own. An obedient and hard working young Irish American woman, she became a nun and worked with the poor in Latin America. No one could have predicted what came next.

Like the man in whose path she walked, Clarke was increasingly radicalized by the plight of the poor. In fact the experience utterly transformed her, turning into an outspoken critic of every kind of overweening male authority, as she charted new directions in Catholic religious life, even eventually challenging the CIA backed juntas that were terrorizing and frequently torturing and killing the disenfranchised.

We often think of faith as the first exemplar of piety, but that was not the lesson of Sister Maura’s life. She believed that everyone she met mattered and so she often paid particular attention to those who were most often overlooked. She stood against the vicious treatment of the poor and the government repression that often accompanied it and she literally paid with her life for her convictions.

It’s not hard to see why Eileen Markey, an investigative journalist who has worked with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and New York magazine and others, was so captivated by her principled subject. We are all at some level fascinated by those rare human beings who dare to live the message of the gospels in the most ardent and unambiguous ways.

Standing up to the exploitation and cruelty that allowed pitiless regimes to take and then hold power required a rare degree of courage as well as conviction, but these Sister Maura had in spades.

Markey has written a testament worthy of her remarkable subject, one that asks searching spiritual as well as philosophical questions. When you live in murderous times and are surrounded by hard choices and desperate circumstances, your life’s work is to maintain the spark of decency that makes you human, even in defiance of those who would prefer to extinguish it.

Unnoticed by herself, Sister Maura lived her life as though auditioning for the role of saint and Markey’s book is a worthy retelling of the life and work of this radical hero.

Nation Books, $26.99.

This Man’s Wee Boy: A Childhood Memoir of Peace and Trouble in Derry

By Tony Doherty

If the city of Derry ever falls to ruin you could probably recreate its essence from the memory of Tony Doherty, who knows its streets, its characters and its vernacular the way he knows himself.

In his pitch perfect new memoir he has distilled his childhood memories to their rich essence. The story begins just as The Troubles are brewing and each page is a moment gently coaxed back to life by the sheer force of his remembrance.

There is so much love in this book that it often arrests you. The way people speak, the spirit of fun they express and the unforgettable words they express it in are a testament to his deep affection.

Doherty conjures working class life in the city in the late 1960s and early 1970s with an authority and ease that can only come from lived experience.

There is unforgettable hurt and heartbreak in this book too, courtesy of the divided society he’s growing up in and its unresolved and ancient feuds. Doherty’s adored father quietly emerges as central to the overall story, but he is often considered at a sort of arm’s length, because he is a man whose struggles to raise his family in a city without jobs sometimes causes his temper to snap.

Doherty idolizes and sometimes fears his rather remote father, so when fate intervenes to change all their lives forever you will feel a little of what Tony does. It’s fair to say he was been marked for life by the events of Bloody Sunday (the name for the notorious attack by British forced on unarmed civilians in 1972).

Doherty was part of the campaign to have his father’s name cleared of all charges (alongside all those killed and wounded on the day). He not only succeeded he also received an apology from the then British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In This Man’s Wee Boy Doherty reminds us that the suffering that came with the Troubles happened to real people, not just names in newspapers, and they had their lives upended. This funny and fierce memoir will also remind you that the city where the worst of it happened remains unbowed and completely undiminished.

Amazon, $18.