Friday, March 14, 2008
For some people, the history of Ireland's potato famine might go like this, "The potatoes were bad. People starved. A lot of them moved to the United States." Ireland is now one of the wealthiest countries in Europe and has a healthy tourism trade. Irish pubs, Irish music, and Irish dance are popular worldwide. It's simply amazing, in this light, to read Susan Campbell Bartoletti's Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850. If you're familiar with her recent Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow or her earlier Kids on Strike! or Growing Up in Coal Country, you know that Bartoletti brings an immediacy to difficult subjects that makes her one of our most gifted writers of juvenile nonfiction. She writes movingly of the anguish and utter hopelessness felt by the starving Irish, the prejudice that they faced from overseas, the despair felt over yet another failed potato crop and the humiliation of eviction, the misery as entire villages suffered and struggled to bury their dead, and the hope that immigration to North America and Australia brought. Black Potatoes is a mesmerizing read of a very painful part of Irish history by a stellar author.