Monday, July 8, 2019

History’s Bridge

“It was only meant to be a few hours of fun. A lark. On a sunny Saturday morning the three of them set sail on Puget Sound because of Maria’s dream. Then disaster struck, and the three of them were plunged into a dark adventure in which they would confront good and evil, past lives, and a timeless curse born from a tragic love.”
—Marketing tagline for the novel The Curse of Septimus Bridge
One thing you soon learn from living in rural Ireland is that the past is never very far away.

I used to think that history did not weigh on Americans the same way it does on people in most other countries, but lately I question whether that is as true as I thought.

Americans seem to be going through a period of unearthing and rediscovering and reliving and, most pertinently, relitigating their country’s past. On one hand, this is a good and necessary thing to do. It is healthy to come to terms with past wrongs and to attempt to right them where possible. On the other hand, it can also be divisive. Dwelling obsessively on the past can lead to competing historical narratives and a sense of grievance that can be exploited by manipulative leaders.

I myself have been doing a fair amount of dwelling on the past during the past several months. As you can see by the shameless plug on the right-hand side of this page, I have a new “latest novel.” The Curse of Septimus Bridge is another one of my fantasies, but unlike The Three Towers of Afranor it does not take place in a made-up mythical world. It starts out in Seattle, Washington, and somewhere in the middle of the story, it finds itself (of all places) in 17th-century Ireland.

This had the strange effect of causing me to see the place I live at a temporal remove. The few remnants of Galway’s medieval wall, which now are incorporated into a city-center shopping mall, sprouted up to surround the central city as it did many years ago. The ruined castles that dot the surrounding landscape became new again and were once more inhabited by the twelve tribes, i.e. the dominant Anglo-Norman clans, of Galway. The city waited apprehensively, as an English army led by Oliver Cromwell headed its way, cutting a swath from Dublin across the island.

This sense of distant local history coming alive is new to me, but not to the Irish. Mention Cromwell’s name today, and you get a palpable reaction. There are plenty of reasons for the Irish to feel aggrieved by their larger neighbor—conquest, massacres, religious and national persecution, famines, and a bloody civil war that happened just a bit less than a century ago. Somehow, however, people manage to get on with their lives, mostly in peace and even in general prosperity—political dysfunction in Belfast and Brexit notwithstanding.

Of course, the peace is not absolute. For much of the late 20th century, Northern Ireland was rocked by violence. That is what comes of different groups adopting and adhering so strongly to their own mutually exclusive narratives that they cannot accept the legitimacy of imperfect but democratically elected leaders whom they cannot abide.

Just something to think about as we head deeper into the interminable 2020 election campaign.

By the way, the paperback edition of The Curse of Septimus Bridge is available from major online booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The digital version is available exclusively from Amazon’s Kindle Store. Those are US sites. For other countries, kindly consult my book blog.

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