Sunday 22 April 2018

Passion and power vie for Non-fiction Book of the Year Award

Wounds by Fergal Keane
Wounds by Fergal Keane
I Am, I Am, I Am
Alfie
In America
Brexit & Ireland

Madeline Keane

Love and war, power and death, politics and culture. All human life is here in the shortlisted titles for Onside's Non-fiction Book of the Year 2017.

Since its inception in 2011, the winners of this prize have been an eclectic bunch - Rachel Allen, Edna O'Brien, Michael Harding, Graham Norton, Joe Duffy and Paul Howard - and the current strong sextet of contenders make the 2017 award a hard one to call.

The seismic political events of the last 12 months are captured in a brace of books by two of RTE's leading journalists.

In Brexit and Ireland, Europe editor Tony Connelly looks at the implications for our island. John Bruton, writing in The Times, said: ''This excellent book thoroughly explores most of the consequences of Brexit for commerce. It ought to be read in every European capital, because Brexit will change the nature of the EU irrevocably, and affect every European state.'

Reviewing Catriona Perry's In America: Tales from Trump Country on these pages, David Blake Knox observed how it would have been easy for her to focus on the usual nuts and cranks. Instead RTE's Washington correspondent visited 11 states, interviewing a wide range of Trump supporters, concluding that ''it may prove as a useful corrective … and a helpful book for Irish people to read''.

More than 30 years later, I still remember listening rapt, as a UCD undergrad to Professor Declan Kiberd's eloquent lectures on Irish literature. After Ireland - as the subtitle puts it, writing the nation from Beckett to the present - is Kiberd's erudite survey of post-war Irish literature and prompted Maynooth University's Professor Emer Nolan to praise it as ''an indisputably rich and accomplished work".

Alfie is Trevor White's biography of the politician Alfie Byrne who became known as the ''Lord Mayor of Ireland''.

Reviewing Alfie on these pages, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recalled a time when ''the 'Shaking Hand of Dublin' would have been known to everyone… Trevor White brings him vividly back to life in the pages of his elegant new biography''.

Personal testimony is here in two titles. I Am, I Am, I Am is novelist Maggie O' Farrell's thought-provoking account of her 17 brushes with death - near drownings, encephalitis, dysentery and most terrifyingly, an encounter with a murderous stranger with which it opens.

Fiona Sturges commented in The Guardian, ''as well as making sense of the extraordinary, O'Farrell's expertise lies in finding significance in the ordinary, making connections and finding clarity where most might find fog''.

Fergal Keane (no relation), a weekly columnist with this newspaper, has, as the BBC's foreign correspondent, covered conflict the world over. With Wounds: A Memoir of War & Love, he returns to personal territory and Ireland's violent past. The historian Diarmaid Ferriter lauded Keane's powerful memoir as ''frequently absorbing and intelligently reflective''.

The winner of Onside's Non-fiction Book of the Year will be revealed on Tuesday November 28 at a gala event at the Clayton Hotel and highlights of the ceremony will be broadcast on RTE the following night after the nine o'clock news. Readers can vote for their favourite book by logging on to www.bgeirishbookwards.ie

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