3 out of 4 stars
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As the last born in his family, Murphy is the apple of his parents’ eyes. His proximity to his parents sometimes makes him hear things he shouldn’t, and in the process, he gets admonished for “spying on adult conversations.” Naturally, though, unlike his elder brother, Liam, who lacks social skills, Murphy is astute and has a healthy dose of curiosity. Besides, young Murphy knows that he must be inventive to get information because grown-ups never answer questions they don’t want to answer and, unlike children, they always get away with it.
Such was the case when his close friend, Jamsie O’Malley, disappeared. Though Jamsie was much older, Murphy liked him because he was always gentle, even when pie-eyed. And even those times he caught the lads of the avenue playing in the nuns’ fields, where he worked, he never told on them. Instead, he just laughed it off.
So, the night Jamsie disappeared, Murphy sat motionless outside on the stairs squinting through the slightly open living room door. He intensely listened while his Dad told Mammy what had happened.
The Longfellah’s Son: An Almost True Irish Story is a memoir about the author, Michael Cassidy. His dad was so tall that the workers in the factory that he ran nicknamed him Longfellah. I enjoyed reading about his life experiences as he grew up, talking about his Irish heritage, and the strong influence of religion in everyday life. All this against the backdrop of the Anglo-Irish war which, at one instance, had its effects catching the grown-up Murphy on a wrong-footing.
About his Irish heritage, there are various ways Cassidy displays patriotic enthusiasm. An obvious one is his use of words or expressions that only an Irish can. The word “craic,” for example, is an all-encompassing word that denotes gaiety; it can also mean generous, like in the following example from the novel: “A mean person, not at all like his father’s other six brothers who were mighty craic.” I think it’s one of those words you can get away with if your intended meaning is something positive.
Consequently, I could use its meaning to summarize the overall tone of the novel. The novel’s sense of craic (enjoyment) permeates every aspect of its characterization. Indeed, it eventually appeared to me that this was the driving force of any Irishman’s need for social interaction: evidently, it’s never far off, even in funerals—as one prominent funeral described in the novel proved. Further, to illustrate this point, there is a whole chapter dedicated to streaking, whose sole purpose, in addition to the booze, is to elicit an air of well-being, camaraderie, mischief, shock, and hilarity.
Murphy is an interesting character who started off as a conformist only to end up as an agent of change, both positive and negative. He grew up attending a Catholic institution, but because of the way religion was pushed down his throat, he became an unbeliever. He also made some bad career choices that cost him his family, social life, and eventually his homeland (as alluded to by the book title).
Major themes discussed include the place of religion in everyday life, Irish tradition and culture, alcoholism, and family. Some significant Irish events hinted at in the book include the Battle of the Boyne, the Irish Famine, and the Treaty of Limerick; moreover, some iconic monuments mentioned by Cassidy during a spurt of patriotic pride include Stonehenge and Newgrange. Additionally, there is a lot of Irish slang and expressions used, which added to my enjoyment of the book: for example, an alcoholic is a “geezer-man,” and a fish and chips shop is a “chipper.” On the contrary, there are also some words used, I couldn’t figure them out anywhere, such as “langerzed” and “flagration.”
As I conclude, what I enjoyed most about the novel was the writing style. Cassidy’s novel is peppered with a lot of personal beliefs and emotions. Additionally, colloquialism feels natural to him and he is not afraid to make it a characteristic of his writing.
Conversely, the novel needs another round of editing. And based on the high number of errors, it didn’t seem to have been professionally edited. Most of the errors were about missing words, typos, and missing commas. Were it not for the errors, I would unreservedly give this book a full rating. I, therefore, rate it 3 out of 4.
I recommend the novel to young people who need to learn about the value of hard work and the devastating effects of alcohol. More specifically, it promotes an Irish identity and the overall need for diverse people to protect their cultural norms and ways of life. For these two reasons, any general reader should find it fascinating.
The Longfellah's Son: An Almost True Irish Story
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