After the Rising

Written by Orna Ross
Review by Deborah Young

This beautifully written literary novel describes the impact of the 1916 Irish Rising against British rule in a complex plot across several time frames. Jo Devereux, returning to Wexford for her mother’s funeral after 20 years of self-imposed exile abroad, is tasked to write the family history from a suitcase of old letters and diaries.  Slowly Jo unravels family secrets that tore her country and community apart in the 1920s, explaining the bitter rift between her family and that of her first love, Rory. The process helps her come to terms with the crisis in her own life and to move on.

No history book could reveal with as much compassion the impact of the Irish conflict on successive generations. Although the novel explains the political background subtly and effectively, its greatest power is to convey the human suffering of individuals: lovers and soul-mates parted by political enmity, parents torn apart by the loss of their children dying for the cause, siblings who should have been each other’s comforters turned into strangers.

This expertly crafted novel is an important work in terms of Irish social history, but it will also be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates intelligent and profound family sagas that make the reader count his own blessings.

The first in a trilogy, this book is professionally produced. My only quibble is with the cover, which, although elegant, is too obscure. The image of an anonymous hand rising above a wave, with no reference to the wider themes of the book, just made me think of Stevie Smith’s poem about suicide, “Not Waving But Drowning”. Without at least a subtitle referring to the Irish themes to engage appropriate readers, it will be harder for this novel to earn the place it deserves as a modern classic on 20th century Irish social history.