3 out of 4 stars
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Told through a series of yarns, Laughter, Tears & Wonders: An Irish Memoir, Childhood and Coming of Age in Dublin, focuses on the author’s early life as an adolescent growing up in Ireland and continues up to his early twenties. Specifically, the memoir covers the period 1942-1966. These yarns are mostly chronological; some are simple vignettes about a person, place or singular event, and some are fully fledged short stories describing specific incidences in the author’s life. Family, growing pains, friendships, political strife and work-life are all touched upon in the 64 yarns that make up this collection. The author, Niall John Kavanagh, blends personal experiences with insight about historical and political events in his emotionally charged memoir.
The author successfully brings the Irish setting to life by utilizing various elements. For instance, intertwining historical facts within the memoir brought much needed context to the events described. Similarly, the introduction of many colorful characters and their quirky personality traits added a sense of realism to the stories. The element that most effectively brought the setting to life was the clever use of the author’s Irish brogue throughout each story. Combined, all of these elements made it easy to picture the places, people and things at the forefront of each yarn.
In addition to the apparent realism imbued in this memoir, the author does a wonderful job mixing humor, nostalgia and history. Like most young boys, Niall’s antics are outrageous at times, and there were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in this collection. On the other hand, Niall suffered some tragedy in his early life, and these yarns are handled with care, becoming rather emotional. Throughout all of this story telling, the author sprinkles in quite a bit of Irish history. Thankfully, the historical points in this book are described in an interesting manner and genuinely add to one’s understanding of Niall’s life events.
Although many of the vignettes and short stories succeed in eliciting emotion without a typical plot arc, some tended to be a bit more mundane and didn’t have as powerful an effect. Simply put, some of the yarns never reached that atmospheric level of storytelling that can turn monotonous life events into worthwhile reading material. Unfortunately, this made parts of the memoir a little boring.
Part memoir, part history book, I highly recommend this book to those interested in Ireland and its past and to those who enjoy a bit of humor in their reading. Although the author successfully combines stories from his early life with important Irish history in a meaningful and interesting manner, some of the yarns are significantly more interesting than others, and for that reason I rate Laughter, Tears & Wonders: An Irish Memoir 3 out of 4 stars.
Laughter, Tears & Wonders: An Irish Memoir
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