The Harp in the South

The Harp in the South, Ruth Park, 1947

  • Australia, #10
  • Kindle, £4.35 for the trilogy (I only read the first book)
  • Read October 2014
  • Rating: 3/5
  • Recommended for: People who like both John Steinbeck and Roddy Doyle

I have only just found out, six months after reading this book, that Ruth Park was actually born in New Zealand, and didn’t move to Australia until she was 25, only six years before the publication of The Harp in the South. This breaks one of my cardinal rules for this list: that an author must have at least spent their formative years in the country they’re representing. But…I already read it, so it’s staying. Also, it’s about Australia, and about the Irish underclass of depression-era Sydney, which is a subculture not much discussed in my other Australian readings (another good book about Irish-Australians is Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, which I didn’t read for this project because I already read it a few years ago, but which I highly recommend).

Dublin, Ireland 2009

Interestingly, Park’s characters still think of themselves as Irish, despite being second- and third-generation Australians. Their connection to Ireland is tenuous; Dolour, one of the book’s principle characters, imagines her grandmother’s homeland as a sort of fairy-land, so impossibly distant that it might as well be make-believe. And yet she and her family still strongly identify as Irish, and their beliefs and patterns of speech and their traditions are distinctly Irish, and different from those of other groups of Australians.

It was a nice book, touching and tender, a little bit gritty without dwelling overmuch on harsh reality. Think more Cannery Row than Grapes of Wrath. I was mildly tempted to go on to read the next book in the trilogy, but ultimately I wasn’t moved enough, or hooked enough, to spend the time on it. That being said, it’s entertaining, easy to read, and has a little bit of substance to it, so it’s worth a read if the subject matter appeals to you.

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