The author of this memoir was 93 when he began to write it which was after the death of his wife Ruby. He was born in 1910. The memoir has a sequel titled The Dream. The setting is an English mill town in Lancashire: a small town and a street with an “invisible wall” dividing Jewish families on one side from Christian families on the other. “Actually,” Harry writes, what we had here was a miniature ghetto…and though the distance from one side to the other…was only a few yards…the distance socially could have been miles and miles.” (Prologue)As a memoir, this is particularly powerful and genuine. The working conditions/climate in the tailoring shops where Harry’s father worked and also his sister Lily,the social restrictions and barriers, the parents’ struggle to raise a family and keep a home,are very clearly presented and the reader easily enters into these various aspects of Harry’s family life. He inspires strong empathy.
The love story involves Harry’s sister Lily who falls in love with a Christian boy. Harry is drawn into their story when he discovers the romance.
The war changes things on the street. Harry describes the changes: “The war, it seemed, had almost completely destroyed the invisible wall that had separated us, bringing the two sides together. Many young man on the street are called up including Lily’s young man Arthur. After the war, things revert back to old patterns. Arthur and Lily see each other secretly and Harry knows this. Eventually the mother finds out and the parents follow Jewish customs and consider their daughter to be dead. As Harry describes it: “And this time too the Christians may have been just as shocked and as fearful for their own daughters and sons.”
Harry and the family left England in 1922 although as he says “I never really left the street. It was always there in my mind through the years that followed.” Forty years later he did return just in time to see the old buildings before they were demolished and he finds one of the people he knew when he lived there.
A memoir that is well worth a read: told with patience, humility and the uncluttered viewpoint of one who remembers with the clarity and non-judgmental vision of a child which is what Harry was during his time there.
Here are some comments from www.coraharrison:
The Burren Mysteries
With her superb attention to detail, Cora Harrison brings medieval Ireland into vivid life, being equally skilful at portraying the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Mara is up there with the great fictional detectives. – Historical Novel Society, Editors’ Choice Titles for August 2009
Ellis Peters and Peter Tremayne fans who have yet to discover Harrison will be overjoyed. – Publishers Weekly starred review
Outstanding both for its attention to detail and historical correctness. Historical mystery fans won’t want to miss this one. – Library journal
Laws in Conflict is the eighth novel in the series of Burren novels. The year is 1512 and the setting in this case is the City of Galway. Mara, Brehon (judge) of the Burren goes to Galway with her law students to see if she can free a former citizen of the Burren who has been caught in Galway and accused of stealing a meat pie. His name is Sheedy and Mara has dealt with him before in the Burren: he is a simple soul who cannot read or write and Mara is convinced he stole the meat pie simply because he was hungry and he had access to it. Laws are different in Galway though and the theft of items over a certain value is punishable by death. King Richard the third granted a charter to Galway giving the mayor all the rights to taxes and the responsibility for maintenance. The mayor is elected and “has power over life and death” and “the power to tax everything that comes into the city.” The present mayor, James Lynch has been in power for 5 years. He is not a trained lawyer. Galway was ruled by “a mixture of English law and Roman law, and both were equally cruel to those who infringed even minor examples of these laws”. Mara tells her friend Ardal O’Lochlainn the chieftain of the most numerous clans of the Burren that she is “thinking of interfering in the affairs of another kingdom, or state” and she will come up against “conflictus legum” or conflicting laws and this is what leads to the journey of Mara and her law students, including one young woman, Fiona, to Galway.
The state of the law during this time period is a most interesting aspect of these books. “In Dublin the law was exactly the same as in England, but traditionally Galway was ruled by Roman law. It was only in the last few years that English law had begun to prevail. Mara was trained in Roman law which is why she is prepared to take on this unusual situation.
The simple case of the theft of a meat pie becomes a small drop in a big bucket rather quickly when the murder of a young Spaniard occurs and the main suspect is the son of the present mayor and the circumstantial evidence does not add up for Mara or her law students.
A compelling look at life in general in early Ireland and also at law schools of the time, trade in busy ports such as Galway and political organizations of kingdoms and cities of the medieval period. Apparently tourists can see Lynch’s Castle and Blake’s Castle today as well as many of the places in this story including The King’s Head Inn.
If you think Cora Harrison’s series might appeal to you I highly recommend that you start with My Lady Judge. Also that you go visit her website as shown at the top of this review.