Saturday, August 23, 2014

New Mexico Author Writes Novella About Irish Famine

"Hunger Road is a passionate and compassionate novel of the Irish Famine and the story of the tragedy and bravery of the families who endured it. Its lyricism touches the heart and in so many ways is relevant to the contemporary problems we are now facing with the trials of the families from Mexico and Central America who are trying to escape hunger and poverty and tyranny in their own countries. History, as always, repeats itself."  -Patricia Preciado Martin, (Author of Songs My Mother Sang to Me: An Oral History of Mexican American Women and Days of Plenty, Days of Want)

Victoria Tester has written several touching pieces for the Bread New Mexico blog about her experiences working with poor communities just across the border in Mexico. She told us the personal stories of some of the children of Mixteco migrant workers (orignally from the southern state of Guerrero) who live in Colonia Guadalupe in Chihuhua. She also described the dedicated work of  the Franciscan Sisters who serve at Casa Alexia, located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Ciudad Juárez.

Ms Tester, author of  the award-winning poetry anthology Miracles of Sainted Earth and Dying in the City of Flowers (Five Star Expressions), delved into historical fiction with the publication of Hunger Road: A Novella about the Irish Famine this summer. "This haunting dreamscape of the Great Famine evokes the world of the vanishing tenant farmer population of Ireland through the eyes of its nine-year-old narrator, Una Mac Cormaic -- a visionary child who echoes the Hunger Spirit of Irish folklore. Una spies on the lives of those around her in an effort to hold onto their disappearing world," said

 Here is an excerpt from the book:
Through the glass pane window of their cottage, the Farmer and his wife and children were gathered around a table laden with bread, buttermilk, and steaming potatoes.
Their heads bowed, they spoke a Catholic blessing before they began to eat their evening meal.
As the dishes were passed around, the Farmer eyed his oldest son, a listless boy my brother Michael's age, with hair combed free of oak leaves.
"Put more on your plate," the Farmer tells him.
"I am not hungry, Dad."
The Farmer grew angry.
Blessed as they were by God, and his son was not hungry. His son did not want to be among the lucky. 

The Story Behind the Novella
So, what led this poet, playwright  and sometimes blogger to write about the Irish famine?

The idea of writing the book started with a collaboration with Hollywood director Ralph Bakshi (who lives in New Mexico) on a screenplay"It was an empowering experience, bringing my own deepest sorrows and concerns to the forefront of my creative imagination, and as soon as it was done I realized that the very next thing I wanted to do, if I dared, was to write about the Irish Famine," said Ms. Tester.

Her experiences in Mexico and her life history also had some influence on the writing of the novella. "I try to stay in the present as much as I can as I find the past overwhelming, just as I find the situation in Mexico overwhelming," said Ms. Tester, a deeply compassionate person and a member of the Third Order Society of St. Francis, Anglican and Episcopal Franciscans, "But I am sure my present work to ease hunger on the Mexico border is influenced by the few stories of hunger that survived in my own family, and also the stories of generosity. I know Salvation Army boxes at Christmas were all my mother as a little girl ever experienced of holiday generosity. In one there was a pair of over-sized lace-up boots that helped transform her into her wild hero Annie Oakley. Never discount your ability to serve as a hero in a child's eyes, or what even an old pair of boots might mean to someone." 

While creativity played a central role in the making of the book, research was an important and necessary part of the process. "I began with Tom Hayden's Irish Hunger: Personal Reflections on the Legacy of the Famine, and I read and read as much historic and contemporary material as I could find, and talked to present day scholars and others, until a parable, a story, of the Famine began to form in my mind," said Ms. Tester.

Here are some links for you to purchase the book: (paperback and kindle) and Barnes & Noble.

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