Skip to main content

Citizens by Kevin Curran


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.


Popular posts from this blog

The Blocks by Karl Parkinson

The Blocks

Karl Parkinson (New Binary Press 2016, Trade Paperback) 274 pages, cover price N/A

There's a tremendous irony in our lives you know, and it is one as large and predominant as the oxygen we breathe yet equally as invisible, equally ignored; an irony as imperceptible as the blood within our veins that itself only comes to our notice when the skin breaks and the blood trickles free before we hide the wound with a bandage and secure the blood back where it belongs. That irony is this: Our most basic desire, expressed in equal parts of hope and fear, is that we want to continue to live. And why? Because we want our individual lives to be different than what they are.
Karl Parkinson's first novel, The Blocks is a mad, tragic, stylish and daring exploration into that self-same need to survive and yet to change. The Blocks of the title themselves are neither those of the prison nor a child's alphabet; at least not literally although the reader may rightly infer those meta…

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan (Knopf Canada edition 2016, Hard Cover) 197 pages, $29.95 cover price
We have to talk about the concept first. Oh I had a long and lively internal debate about it, you can be sure of that. After all, all books have concepts that we accept without too much fuss – talking animals, sentient corpses, thought-filled trees, the whole Harrod's bought stuffed menagerie of Winnie the Pooh carrying on like a picnic gathering of the British Women's Institute with special invited guests from the Royal Society of St George – we accept all of those without too much fuss. I've even admitted to sniffing up a tear or two over The Brave Little Toaster, so if one can be moved by a bloody kitchen appliance then why not a sentient foetus as the central character of Ian McEwan's Nutshell?It probably won't surprise you that I have a theory to go with that, slightly more substantial than an amuse-bouche if not quite a meal in itself. My thinking is that we go with the ta…

White and Red Cherries by Tanja Tuma

White and Red Cherries: A Slovenian Civil War Novel

Tanja Tuma (Self-published 2016, Trade paperback) 301 pages with glossary and bibliography, cover price n/a
It dawned on me like a thunder strikes a tree: this petite young girl embodies a mission, her reason to exist. Every one of us embodies his mission by what he does. We are what we do. Not chemical elements, but our deeds define our being. We are neither the faith we trust in God, nor the love we give and take. The least of what we are is the genetic code we get from our parents, which in turn lives on in our descendants. No. We are what we do at this moment in this bloody world. Our deeds can defy eternity. They can mirror our will and freedom forever. Those words are thoughts by the elderly Martin, born during the Second World War and raised by the partisan heroine Valeria Batič as her son, when his natural mother Ada quite literally tossed her baby from a train window to Valeria as the train pulled out for Vienna. Ada you see w…