Thursday 21 September 2017

Compassionate account of a terrible era of moral dictatorship

Fiction: The American Girl Rachael English, Hachette Ireland, €18.40

Rachael English
Rachael English
The American Girl

Margaret Madden

Boston-Irish Rose Moroney shocks her family when she finds herself pregnant at 17. It is 1968 and while Rose insists she will marry her boyfriend, her mother is having none of it. "There are ways of handling these things."

The family's hard-earned reputation is everything to them and Rose is dispatched to Ireland, where she can conceal her condition and place her baby up for adoption.

Young Rose is met by her aunt, a nun in Carrickbrack Mother and Baby Home, and is soon swallowed whole by the religious institution.

The girls are treated abysmally and their babies seen as commodities; sold with no emotional involvement.

Sister Agnes justifies the adoptions in the typical Catholic way: "Unfortunately, many modern girls have peculiar ideas. They think they can do whatever they like without considering the consequences. And, of course, they never pause to consider the pain and shame they're visiting on their families."

Dublin, 2013 and Martha Sheeran begins the process of tracing her birth-mother.

With limited details from her adoptive parents, she becomes frustrated with the delays involved with official research.

Her teenage daughter does her own sleuthing and it is not long before they are visiting the site of Carrickbrack; with decades of secrets and grief hidden behind its stunning facade.

What happened to the American Girl? Did she ever think about her baby? Who was the child's father? The questions begin to mount as mother and daughter continue their search.

Rachael English (pictured) has addressed the overseas-adoption process, but in reverse.

The harrowing details of what occurred in Irish Mother and Baby homes has only fully come to light in recent years; with revelations of hidden records, secret burials and systematic abuse.

While these issues are addressed in the novel, it is not written in the form of 'misery lit'; rather in a retrospective way.

Martha's daughter, Evanne, is horrified to discover that nails jutting out from a dilapidated wall at Carrickbrack represent the burial sites of infants: "How could the nuns do that to them? How could their families let it happen? I mean, what was wrong with those people?"

The story unfolds, gently, with Rose, Martha and Evanne looking at the past to better understand the present. Three generations deserve the truth.

A tender novel which compassionately looks at the terrible era of moral dictatorship, hidden truths and the ongoing effects of Ireland's Mother and Baby homes.

Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment