Friday, April 5, 2013
The Crooked Branch
Author: Jeanine Cummins
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
From the national bestselling and highly acclaimed author of The Outside Boy comes the deeply moving story of two mothers—witty, self-deprecating Majella, who is shocked by her entry into motherhood in modern-day New York, and her ancestor, tough and terrified Ginny Doyle, whose battles are more fundamental: she must keep her young family alive during Ireland’s Great Famine.
After the birth of her daughter Emma, the usually resilient Majella finds herself feeling isolated and exhausted. Then, at her childhood home in Queens, Majella discovers the diary of her maternal ancestor Ginny—and is shocked to read a story of murder in her family history.
With the famine upon her, Ginny Doyle fled from Ireland to America, but not all of her family made it. What happened during those harrowing years, and why does Ginny call herself a killer? Is Majella genetically fated to be a bad mother, despite the fierce tenderness she feels for her baby? Determined to uncover the truth of her heritage and her own identity, Majella sets out to explore Ginny’s past—and discovers surprising truths about her family and ultimately, herself.
Right off I will say that Ginny's story I found to be far more fascinating than Majella's.
Majella is simply a new mother feeling alone and over her head in her new role in life. She finds Ginny's diary with only small bits of information in it and from that decides that being a bad mother is in her genes. That's jumping rather wildly to conclusions (not that it doesn't actually happen in real life of course). She and her mother don't have a good relationship and she feels abandoned by her when she doesn't come immediately to help with the new baby. She begins to spy on the neighbors via their baby monitors as her new hobby. (Remind me not to use one of those things again!)
Meanwhile Ginny was fighting for her children's lives, finding ways to feed them when there was no more food in the house and the potato famine had left them with nothing but rotten crops. Her husband sailed to America to find work and send money home... only to not be heard from again. Ginny's everyday existence was heartrending, frightening and sniffle inducing. At one point she has to leave the children completely alone as she finds work, depending on the kindness of a man with a horse to take them food she manages to smuggle out every few days.
The book jumps back and forth between the 1800s and present day, every other chapter is either Ginny or Majella. While this is a well written book, I'll be honest in that I contemplated skipping over the chapters that weren't Ginny. But perhaps that's me - perhaps after 3 kids I'm over the new baby burnout phase of life!