All Over Ireland: New Irish Short Stories

Edited by Deirdre Madden

This absorbing new collection of short stories features the work of established and emerging Irish writers, so roots and rootlessness are recurring themes.

The diversity of experience and outlook is remarkable. Emigrants and travelers record their journey to New York, San Francisco, London and Ghana. They record the inner journeys that they make too, with startling urgency.

In “For Keeps,” Belinda McKeon writes about a signature experience in any emigrant’s life, the disorienting experience of being neither here nor fully there, of being forced by circumstance to navigate the past and the future and the two versions of yourself the way that those who leave are fated to.

In her quietly dazzling Osin returns to Tir Na nOg tale, she finds herself trapped between competing stories in a way that any returning Irish emigrant will instantly recognize.

She’s back in Ireland moving through a seductive tale she’s been quietly written out of.  She hears the grace notes and can pick up the tune, but for what and for whom and why exactly?

McKeon is particularly good at catching the tensions that erupt between those who go and those who stay, and her story anchors the entire collection.

Long acknowledged masters of the form, Ireland’s reputation in the genre is further advanced by this fascinatingly rich collection, assembled by editor Deirdre Madden.

Faber&Faber, $15.95.

Handbook of the Irish Revival: An Anthology of Irish Cultural and Political Writings 1891-1922

Edited by Declan Kiberd and P.J. Matthews

Poets, playwrights and novelists were at the epicenter of the Irish revolutionary generation and they numbered among its most far seeing political thinkers and activists.

Professors Declan Kiberd and P.J. Matthews want to give the cultural revolution that preceded the political one its due by assembling the essays, articles and letters of the preeminent (and lesser known) artists that paved the way to the Rising and its aftermath.

Ireland at the end of the 19th century was a nation that had been decimated and devastated by the Great Hunger, colonial oppression, economic migration and other ills. James Joyce’s famous word for the tenor of the times was “paralysis.”

And yet, as this vivid book reminds us, a new generation of activists and visionaries was revitalizing the culture in an act of reclamation and transformation that dazzles and has yet to be fully appreciated.

Kiberd and Matthews are more than equal to the challenge they have set themselves, and Handbook of the Irish Revival emerges as an indispensible guide to the politics, culture, art and philosophy of these extraordinary decades in the nation’s story.

Notre Dame Press, $25.

A Path to Peace: A Brief History of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East

By George Mitchell

George Mitchell was the chief architect of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that did the seemingly impossible and brought stability and peace to Northern Ireland.

That means that when he makes recommendations about potential paths to peace in conflict ridden nations, people generally listen. Or at least, in most places they do.

When Mitchell served as U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace from 2009 to 2011 he worked steadfastly to end the longtime Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his considerable diplomatic skills could not break the deadlock.

In A Path to Peace Mitchell gives an insider account of the many ways in which the Israelis and the Palestinians have progressed and regressed in their negotiations through the years.

The neoconservative debacle of the Iraq war years stymied all prospect of political progress in the region for a decade. In fact the invasion underlined a still to be addressed conundrum: how can America seek allies in the region while it leaves the Israeli Palestinian conflict essentially unaddressed?

Critics contend that Mitchell has yet to set foot in Gaza, a prerequisite they see as central to understanding their plight and which they see as crucial to any successful peace effort.

Meanwhile, Mitchell soberly lays out each of the specific concessions that he believes each side must make to achieve the kind of stability and lasting peace he negotiated in Northern Ireland. The book takes a pragmatic but hopeful approach and its recommendations deserve a wide hearing.

Simon & Schuster, $26.