Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: I'll Know It When I See It

I'll Know It When I See It: A Daughter's Search for Home in Ireland by Alice Carey tells the story of Alice and her husband's search for a home in Ireland and the reconciliation of Alice's past. Alice Carey, the daughter of two Irish immigrants from Co. Kerry, was raised in an immigrant neighborhood in Astoria Queens. Her mother was a house cleaner for Jean Dalrymple , a famous theater producer of the time, and Alice spent most afternoons in Dalrymple's luxurious Manhattan townhouse while her Mother cooked and cleaned. This early exposure to the world of theater seems to have heavily influenced her life - Alice became a musical theater performer as an adult.

Another strong influence in Alice's life is that of her mother's Irish heritage and her longing for "Home" in Ireland. Alice's mother saved diligently for years so that she and Alice could travel back to Ireland by boat. Although this trip home was not as idyllic as either Mother or Daughter imagined, it had a strong influence on Alice's life in both positive and negative ways. It certainly is a major driver for her return to Ireland with her husband and her search for a home to buy in Ireland.

There were many points in this memoir where I could identify with Alice despite the fact that our paths in adult life are very different - she an artist, me a scientist. For example, Alice observes as the boat she and and her mother take to Ireland pulls into the dock at Co.Kerry, Ireland:

She's [Alice's mother] completely Irish now. And me? I'm . . . Irish American. No, I'm not at all like those Americans eager to wear green, kiss the Blarney Stone, and soak up the culture. I'm a New Yorker. And I am Irish. Just like Mammie

I think Alice does an excellent job in the above quote of characterizing the immigrant experience - the experience of living between two worlds. Both her Mother and Alice are caught between being New Yorkers and being Irish. Of course, you can be both and that is the beauty of the melting pot which is celebrated in this country but the reality of feeling like you only partly belong to two worlds but don't completely fit into either is also part of the immigrant experience.

Alice also struggles with this as an adult - she imagines her what her (now dead) mother might think of her and her husband's return to Ireland to buy a home:

Alice Marie, ye've dyed yer hair, and ye're not a teacher. Ye lived with a man for how many years, before marrying him? Ye ran from home, moved to Greenwich Village and ye now live in a ruin in Ireland. A ruin! What can I tell them at home? I ran from Ireland to better myself in New York. And now you wind up back in County Cork, no less! Not even Kerry. Living in a ruin

I know my mother would feel the same way - she was so intent on building a better life for herself and ultimately for her family in NY that she would struggle to understand my desire to go back to live in Ireland. She wants me to love it there and to respect where she cam from but living there is an entirely different story.

I really enjoyed this memoir and not just because I feel I share some of Alice's experience. I did expect the book to focus more on Alice and her husband's adjustment to life back in Ireland but the exploration on her childhood and her family's history was equally satisfying!

This book meets the criteria for the Memorable Memoirs Challenge and the Ireland Reading Challenge


  1. I always like it when I find a book I can relate to like this one did for you. I love that second quote!

  2. I love reading memoirs, and this is not one that I have heard of. It sounds enjoyable, even though I don't think I could relate to it personally (because my family has been in Oregon for five generations - six if you count my kids' generation). The downside is that we are so far removed from the culture of our immigrant ancestors that it is harder to identify with.

  3. I saw this on another blog recently and thought it looked good - glad you liked it! I'll link your review to the main challenge page.