In Motherland Caledonia Kearns celebrates the diversity and experience of Irish American women and explores the bonds that tie them to their mothers and their homeland. Ireland is the motherland of the Irish diaspora, and a sense of Irish heritage is often passed down from mother to daughter. Written from both perspectives, these twenty-four pieces — many of which have never been published in book form — are a testament to the complexities and blessings of the mother-daughter relationship.
- Publisher's Weekly
Kearns (Cabbage and Bones) has done an exemplary job of assembling this anthology of writings by a wide variety of Irish-American women. Although many of the selections are memoirs and essays concerning motherhood, some fiction is also included, such as the sample from nearly forgotten novelist Ellin Mackay Berlin (Lace Curtain). Of particular interest are selections from the autobiographies of two important Irish-American labor activists: Helen Gurley Glynn (1890-1964) delivers a stirring tribute to her mother, an immigrant whose political activism made her a role model for her daughter; Mother Jones (1830-1930) recalls how she began agitating for the rights of strikers after the deaths of her husband and four children from yellow fever. There is a touching piece by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who recalls her childhood attempts to wish away her mother's serious illness. Mary Cantwell describes the painful birth of her baby. Other contributors in this thoughtful collection include Mary Gordon, Anna Quindlen and birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger.
Kearns, who previously edited an anthology of Irish American women's fiction (Cabbage and Bones, LJ 10/15/97), has collected 24 fiction and nonfiction pieces "to expose what motherhood can be and how daughters experience their mothers." The majority of the selections are reminiscences about mothers, some filled with praise and nostalgia, others with sorrow and anger. The most entertaining ones — Jean Kerr's satiricial essay about her returning adult children and Martha Manning's piece about her daughter's goldfish — focus on being a parent. Some selections lack clarity and effectiveness because they have been taken out of context from novels. Although they are all written by Irish American women, there is often no mention whatsoever of Irish ways or the Irish American experience. This uneven collection contains few outstanding pieces and is appropriate only for larger libraries with a demand for Irish-related materials.
--Ilse Heidmann, San Marcos, TX
Irish America Magazine
...[A]ny reader will surely find something...which reflects their own relationship with Mom.
Kearns (who edited Cabbage and Bones: An Anthology of Irish-American Women's Fiction, 1997) has assembled a delightfully diverse collection of essays (old and new) and fiction about the struggles and unique joys of motherhood, written by some of America's finest Irish-American women writers. Two dozen stellar contributors examine motherhood in all its complexity, from the stresses of pregnancy, to the challenges of raising teenagers, to functioning as a single mother or a mother-in-law, to the difficulties of growing old and letting go. What unifies this collection is the consistent excellence of its prose and its profound respect for the mothering role. In an essay suffused with self-awareness and hypnotically spare prose, Anna Quindlen describes how her mother's death forced her to become a mature, independent woman. Doris Kearns Goodwin writes powerfully about how her mother taught her to love books and the beauty of language. In a comedic masterpiece, Jean Kerr bemoans that her adult, unmarried "children" have yet to leave the nest: "they don't belong to anybody else yet," so they show up unannounced for dinner, usually carrying a bag of dirty laundry. In another hilarious essay, Martha Manning describes how she accidentally killed her four-year-old daughter's pet goldfish, forcing her to confront the sort of absurd neurosis long associated with Woody Allen. "Mother" Jones, the legendary labor organizer, writes about her mother's unconquerable independence and how it encouraged her budding political activism. Mary Doyle Curran and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn strike similar themes of social activism triggered by a mother's courageous example. In the most emotionally powerfulcontribution, novelist Mary Gordon writes with lyrical intensity about caring for her aging, senile mother. These pieces, sad and funny and always surprising, work well individually but also form a thematically satisfying whole. A thoroughly outstanding exploration of motherhood that's sure to delight mothers, daughters, and lovers of skillfull prose, no matter their ethnic background.