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Citizens by Kevin Curran


Citizens


Kevin Curran (Liberties Press 2016, Trade Paperback) 315 pages, cover price n/a


I begin this review having stopped twenty pages short of finishing reading the book under examination. Unusual? Oh hell yeah, but sometimes we are so desirous of a happy ending that we would prefer to invent one rather than face the thunder clouds of the dark and creeping ugly horizon.

And that too is my beloved Ireland, the broader subject of Kevin Curran's novel Citizens. Ireland, my Ireland; Ireland, your Ireland; Ireland our Ireland, how do we define you? A story: the first friend I ever made here, as arranged by a ghostly spirit, was a brilliant photographer who, like me, emigrated to our island nation of moss and myth. I was saying to him that it made no sense that Ireland was poor, for I could see all its wealth in both culture and sustainable small-market economic development. And so Colm – his real name – said to me wise and crushing words, 'The country is wonderful. The people are wonderful. It's the government. It's always been the government.'

It's the government. Is that not our reality no matter where we live? Ask yourself: Whether you are Irish or not, what do you really want? What do you really want from your life, this ridiculously short dance on the parquet floor of brief existence? I suggest to you those desires are simple things really: a singular love, a job that will provide you food and shelter, and then in third yet communal place a culture that will keep you rooted to the land where you were born so you do not feel the necessity to move and to move and to move.

Does your country do that?

The lines that frame a thousand reviews in this centenary year marking Ireland's tragic Rising against British imperialism in 1916 are from W.B. Yeats' poem September 1913:

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.


Ireland, my Ireland and your Ireland and our Ireland, we shift our eyes' focus from past ambition to cold and present reality to ask, Was it for this? Why and where and how did we fail; how and how and how can we succeed in achieving that for which we fought?

That is the world of Citizens. From where we sit in 2016 – how modern! How noble! – we exist in a cursed and haunted state whereby we really want to stay in our homeland (for we are lazy and do not want to upheave) yet to achieve those simple human goals above we have to leave that nation that has its interests distant from our own. 'Tis better to have loved and lost, indeed, yet how better to have loved and won.

Neil, the central figure of Citizens is a simple young man, a Dubliner, whose beloved girlfriend has left for the land of pucks and funny in Vancouver, Canada. Canada represents opportunity, Ireland is defeat. Neil is torn. Kathy – like Paul Simon's Kathy to whom a different Neil sings:

Let us be lovers,
We'll marry our fortunes together.
I've got some real estate
Here in my bag.

So we bought a pack of cigarettes,
And Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off
To look for America.
"Kathy", I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.


And that is Neil's reality, trumped by a grandmother who shares with Neil both a cache of a memoir and three reels of film from the Rising. Does he stay, preserve the memoir, or cash in and leave for his Kathy? We've all come to look for Americam for Canada, for wherever can achieve the dream?

I do not know Neil's answer yet for I do not want to know what it is. I want to believe that he stays and fights, that Ireland is worth fighting for; just as his great-grandfather felt the idea of an Ireland was worth fighting for. Yet. I don't know. Escape may yet prove the wiser course for do lands or nations in and of themselves ever provide successful conclusions to our desires, or are they in fact subservient to the craven impulses of those who achieve power? Who is Ireland? Is it Neil, is it you, is it me, or is it ... them?

It's tricky writing to say the least, this business of connecting events from a century ago to today and I applaud Kevin Curran for coming onto the device of a memoir and film of the Rising to make it all united and true. Ireland being a young country has the remarkable advantage that many an 'auld wan' today still has memories of conversations with real people who fought for independence. But does anyone today care? Aye, there's the rub and there's the novel.

Citizens is important for people who think ... it is not important. Canadians, Americans or Brits, Spaniards or Portuguese or Greeks, you may not at first see Ireland's story as your story yet given that you all have birthed youth who are afraid, youth who are unfulfilled, youth who have doubts and fears; Citizens is your story too.

They've all come
To look for America.

What are you looking for, in the time-corroded frames of aged celluloid film?

Be seeing you.

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