Star of the Sea
Harcourt, 2004 (2003)
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Reviewed by Barbara Lingens
his historical fiction/murder mystery has lots of bite. The '
Star of the Sea
' is a ship sailing from Ireland to America in the 1830s. The results of the potato famine are felt in every part of the ship, from first class to steerage. The stories of the passengers intertwine, and through them, we get a picture of the Ireland of that time.
ord David Kingscourt travels with his family and a nanny. He is fleeing his creditors; his manor in Ireland is completely indebted. This is disastrous for the people who depend on the manor for their livelihood, and in their desperation they send Pius Mulvey on board with orders to kill Lord David. The interaction between these two shows what happens when people practice humanity instead of preaching it. Nonetheless a murder is committed, and it is not until the end of the book that the true and desperate feelings of all of the characters are unmasked. Besides a picture of what the famine did to the people, the author gives us a study of how fathers can wield their authority to completely ruin the lives of their sons. And how the mothers must suffer for this. It is also the story of a humane captain who is asked to do inhumane things, and who comes to question his choice of livelihood.
he ship is a microcosm of life in that time. We learn social customs, eating habits and contemporary medical practices. We learn the hardscrabble life of the farmer in Ireland, and the way that clever rogues play on simple people. And we learn how desperate people can get when hunger becomes a long-standing condition, and they never see an answer to their prayers.
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