Saturday 22 October 2016

Fiction: Wild Quiet by Roisín O'Donnell

New Island, €10.95

Anne Cunningham

Published 20/06/2016 | 02:30

Debut: Roisín O'Donnell.
Debut: Roisín O'Donnell.
Wild Quiet by Roisín O'Donnell

A recurring theme in Roisín O'Donnell's debut collection of short stories is the meaning of Irishness in this multi-ethnic, frequently hostile little country of ours.

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In How to Learn Irish in Seventeen Steps, Luana, a Brazilian schoolteacher, has married an Irishman and subsequently moved to Ireland. But to teach here, she must pass the State Irish exam. Both funny and sad, it reminds us of the ridiculous practice of mandatory Irish being taught in our schools.

The selling of babies born to unwed mothers was not exclusively an Irish phenomenon. Apparently, it was also commonplace in Franco's Spain, and in the heartbreaking Under The Jasmine Tree, Ciaran travels to Andalucia to meet his birth mother.

In the title story, little Khadra from Somalia lands in Donegal and simply retreats into silence, prompting her classmate to describe her as "wild quiet".

She can't get used to a place where the "eyes of strange prophets watch you from the walls", one of them being the picture of the "man with the exploding heart" on her classroom wall.

In Infinite Landscapes, Simidele O'Doherty, born and raised in Dublin to a Nigerian mother and Irish father, suffers the fate of being an akibu, or "spirit child". Her mother's beliefs in ancient Nigerian folklore are to curse Simi throughout her short and tragic life.

It's a beautiful collection from an interesting new author who handles space and time - those two bugbears of the short story writer - with uncanny ease, fluidity and absolute grace.

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