4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Mary Quigley's Da is a historical fiction book by Mary Jaffe (née Scott). Based on actual events that happened to the author's family, the distressing story of Joseph Quigley, Mary Quigley's father, unfolds as we follow him on his travels from Ireland to New York City and his inevitable death in Kansas.
Joseph Quigley is the protagonist and the antagonist. The book starts with his death then flashes back to his childhood in Ireland and his horrific journey to America. The voyage on the Wave, the ship that brought the family of seven to Staten Island, is vividly described. We watch as two family members die on board, and two others die shortly after landing. Joseph's life in America gets off to a rough start and gets even rougher. His chronological age is 13, but he considers himself a full-grown man. As we follow his life, it becomes clear how and why it ended the way it did. Understanding the tragedies Joseph endured makes it easier to forgive him. Knowing the circumstances of his relationship with Michael, his step-brother, makes the situation even more heartbreaking. Your heart will break often. Jaffe's carefully chosen words evoke emotion on every page. She is careful to add enough historical information to create authenticity without losing the connection to the characters.
A large part of the narrative is told through the eyes of young Mary Quigley, Joseph’s daughter. I have read other stories of homesteaders trying to survive on the prairie, but this family has more than their share of woes. Besides the plague of locusts, the drought, and the war, they are poor Irish immigrants. They are members of a lower class and discriminated against. Then there is the issue of Joseph being troubled with the “Irish Curse” of alcoholism. Young Mary watches her father’s drunken rages and her mother’s efforts to keep the family fed and housed. The well-researched details of farming practices and cultural events are interesting and informative. I had a hard time connecting to Mary, Joseph's wife. She was stubborn and independent at times, and she was submissive and pathetic at others. A quote toward the end of the book helps to explain her behavior. "Mary's faith kept her bound to Joseph more than her love for him did." Faith in the church, in family, and Ireland is a strong theme. Everyone hung on to their beliefs because that was often all they had.
When I first started to read Mary Quigley's Da, I was annoyed because the author chose to start the book with the ending. After reading several chapters, I was convinced that Jaffe knew what she was doing. I was first drawn to the book because I am familiar with Cass County, Missouri. I soon realized that other settings were familiar to me. Having been on Ellis Island and toured the immigration building there, it was easy to visualize the family's arrival in America. Of course, my Irish roots were awakened, and I have vowed to learn more about my own ancestors' experiences when they came to America during the potato famine era. I especially liked how the author was able to capture the Irish dialect without making it too difficult to understand. You can hear the brogue with all its lifts and melodic nuances.
Reading this book requires concentration, but it is worth it. Keeping track of all the relatives who had the same names was difficult. There are multiple Marys and Josephs. Paying attention to the dates and locations on the chapter headings is vital. The plot has many flashbacks. The story begins in 1877 with Joseph's death. Chapters two through five cover Joseph's time during the Civil War starting in 1862. Chapter Six jumps back to 1849 as Joseph shares his story with a fellow soldier.
Mary Quigley's Da: A Personal Tragedy of An Irish Immigrant Caught on the Kansas-Missouri Border During the Civil War is well-edited and does not contain any offensive language or erotic content. There are scenes of death and violence that might limit the audience. Historical fiction fans who enjoy an honest, revealing story that starts at the end will love this book. Because there was nothing in this book to dislike, I rate it 4 out of 4.
Mary Quigley's Da
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon