Stranger from Across the Sea

Stranger from Across the Sea

by Regina McBride
Stranger from Across the Sea

Stranger from Across the Sea

by Regina McBride

Hardcover

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Overview

Stranger from Across the Sea is the new novel from acclaimed author Regina McBride. It's a thrilling mystery with a depth of sensation that verges on the supernatural. Stranger from Across the Sea examines the powerful relationships that occur between women, best friends, mothers and daughters, their joys and secrets, their longing and sometimes dangerous jealousy. 

As a teenager, Violet O’Halloran spent a summer at a Catholic boarding school in Northern Ireland, emptied of all other students but one: Indira Sharma, a blind girl from India with an extraordinary story. The beautiful but ultimately catastrophic friendship that formed between the two girls would go on to haunt Violet for years. 

A decade later, Violet meets an Irishman, Emmett Fitzroy, at a party in New York City and is swept into an intense romance that brings her back to Ireland. While there, she unearths the stunning answers to mysteries left unresolved when Indira vanished from her life. 

Set in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, Stranger from Across the Sea explores place, displacement, and exile and the ways in which the personal and the political are inseparable. At its heart, this is a story about a passionate friendship between two singular young women, one that transcends the limits of time and distance.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781963101010
Publisher: Green City Books
Publication date: 06/11/2024
Pages: 310
Sales rank: 531,457
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Stranger from Across the Sea is Regina McBride’s fifth novel. She is also the author of a book of poetry and, most recently, a memoir, Ghost Songs. Her novel, The Nature of Water and Air, was a Booksense pick (Independent Book Stores selection), a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers book, and a Borders Original Voices choice. It was optioned for a film. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, she lives in New York City where she teaches creative writing and fiction writing at Hunter College.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

That long ago summer is not gone, Ireland’s damp air and light, the prehistoric-looking stones and ruined castle walls.

While Time carried me on its tide, forward and far away, it left Indira behind. 

She is still there, walking the coastline of that summer beach or sitting in the nuns’ rose garden. She will always be sixteen.

Now and then I find my way back to her when the longing overwhelms me. If I can manage a delicate enough approach, I slip back into the girl I once was, and Indira will sometimes say to me again what she used to say, that everything returns, and that we are not two girls, but one. 

1973

From the Limerick airport, my mother and I drove in a northeasterly direction, taking mostly narrow roads, some of them dirt roads, through fields, and past fuchsia hedges, stalled once behind a flock of slow passing sheep. The purple hills in the distance looked soft.

Nervous about visiting Ireland after seventeen years, my mother had been impatient with me on the plane, and most of the flight we’d sat in silence, but her mood shifted now as she drove. She pointed out a potato field, a hill of patterned ground, the leaves edged with cobalt blue and turquoise.

We passed another field, its gold crop quivering in the breeze. “Barley,” she said, and smiled.

I watched the sky change as we went, the cumulus darkening and converging, lit around the edges by a hidden sun. I leaned into the air outside my open passenger window, breathing the promise of rain, the smell of waiting electricity from the clouds.

My mother pointed to a long tract of wild grass on rocky ground. “That was once a field, now long neglected,” she said, her brogue stronger since she’d had a friendly conversation with the attendant at the car rental place.

Before the rain fell a soft rumble broke above, like a gentle warning. My mother’s mouth tensed at the sound. She had not seen her own mother in many years, and she had rarely written to her. With glazed eyes she stared at the road ahead.

My grandmother’s whitewashed house with its low, thatched roof lay nestled in a small plot of fallow land with a single tree and one area of cultivated garden. She was standing in the doorframe when we arrived, then came out to greet us, a short woman, large breasted and soft about the edges. She opened her arms for my mother and after that for me. Her eyes narrowed and shined, her forehead creasing sternly when she smiled. “What a tall girl you are for sixteen!”

She had sandwiches ready, and warm soda bread and tea, and we sat in her front room, the two of them laughing and joking exuberantly for the first hours, but some old grievance must have reared its head because a pall of silence fell over them. I had not recognized what the offending words might have been or which one had said them. 

“Come outside with me, Violet,” my grandmother said and stood up from her chair at the center of the room. I went with her to the front of the house. She pointed up the road a distance to the next house, another white one, set higher on a hill.

“A fugitive hid for nearly a year in that house,” she said and gave me a forthright nod.

My mother had been standing in the doorway listening. “For God’s sake, Mother!” she said, but my grandmother ignored her.

Later at dinner, it was to me and not my mother that my grandmother said she herself would happily house a fugitive here in her own cottage. 

I nodded at her. “I would too, if I had a house,” I said, and she gave me that same forthright nod.

My mother fumed across the table, knife and fork noisy as she stabbed at a slice of ham on a china plate.

That night they argued. I stood outside the room trying to hear what they were saying. When they weren’t battering each other with accusations, past betrayals, perceived cruelties never forgiven or forgotten, it seemed to be me they were talking about.

My grandmother lowered her voice and said in a fervent whisper, “She has a right to know who she is.”

The next morning it was more of the same, my grandmother taking me aside, walking with me down the road to show me the chickens or the lambs behind the neighboring fence, excluding my mother from our walks. While I helped my grandmother peel potatoes and turnips, my mother criticized her for not keeping the burners of her stove clean enough. When my grandmother ignored her, my mother went outside and stood near the road with her arms crossed staring into the distance. I watched her through the window near the sink as I rinsed earth from the turnips. When she thought no one was looking at her, there was no anger in her face, the muscles around her mouth soft, as if she was puzzled. A chill of pity for her rose up my backbone and it startled me to feel that. 

I saw her again later standing outside in the same place. From the doorway I could see that she was staring at the white thatched house up the road. It occurred to me that that place had something to do with the fight between my mother and grandmother. A half hour or so later when she wasn’t there anymore, I wandered up to that house with the thatch. The door was off and there were little purple flowers growing out of the doorframe. My mother stood in the shadowy interior near an ancient looking fireplace, ashes still in the grate, the walls blackened from long dead fires. She was so still, so absorbed. I stepped over the threshold and she gasped. “You scared the bejesus out of me!”

Her eyes were damp and full of light. 

That afternoon, I could feel my mother tiring of the tension with my grandmother. She asked if she could drive us into town for an ice cream. My grandmother, who had been ignoring her the entire day, walked past her without answering and sat down in her chair. My mother turned to me and asked if I would like an ice cream. Avoiding her eyes, I shook my head and walked past her the way my grandmother had. I could see her in my peripheral vision, suspended in the doorway. When she had driven away, my grandmother made tea and gave me chocolate biscuits. She taught me to play gin rummy. It was almost dark and my mother still had not come back. My heart beat with guilt, unsettling my stomach.

“I heard you and my mother talking, Nanny. What is it that I have the right to know?”

She peered at me a moment, then blinked and looked away. “It’s for your mother to tell you. Not me.”

“It seems like she’s not going to tell me.”

A silence passed before she asked, “What has she told you about your father?”

I told her what I knew about Jack McArdle, the American shoe salesman who she was engaged to before he died in a car accident.

She put a hand over her brow and shook her head. “Your father’s name was Lorcan Kelleher and he was an Irishman.” She leaned to the side from her chair, reaching toward a rickety little desk, pulling a drawer open. After rifling through a few papers she handed me a faded newspaper article held together by yellowed tape.

It was dated February of 1956.


Fugitive Lorcan Kelleher of Cloones, County Monahan, was spotted and apprehended by RUC guards in Castlemacross, County Monahan, on Friday, having eluded the law for almost two years. 

In March of 1954, Kelleher had been part of an arms raid on the British military base at Goggins Barracks in Keeley, managing off with a cache of almost two hundred training rifles, Lee Enfield rifles, submachine guns, and Bren guns.

Some hours later, the police had seized the van carrying the stolen weapons near the border. Two of the four men escaped custody, one of them firing at and injuring an RUC guard. One of the escaped men was captured but the shooter, Lorcan Kelleher, remained at large until Friday. It is conjectured that he had been hiding much of this time in a local farmhouse.


The newsprint picture showed a large man, hands behind his back, escorted by two guards, both men substantially shorter. His head was bent slightly forward, a few errant locks of black hair hanging over his forehead.

To really see what Lorcan Kelleher had looked like, I had to hold the newspaper clipping at a distance. The closer I brought it to my face, the more he lost definition and became nothing but shadow. 

My grandmother said it was midsummer and there would be a bonfire burning, so we walked outside.

“Your father died of tuberculosis in Crumlin Prison, love, two years after he was caught. It’s a sad story, but I want you to know that he fought for Ireland. He fought to drive out the invader. I want you to know that he was a brave man.”

I was excited by the story, my heart beating fast and light as we walked in near darkness toward firelight on an open plain. We passed a group of standing stones, the remains, my grandmother said, of a prehistoric altar. “We all have birthrights,” she said. “You are an Irish girl, not an American.” 

Figures moved around the tall bright crackling flames. “When I was younger I used to dance at the midsummer fire. And so did your mother.”

I wanted to stay longer but she said she was tired. As we’d walked back there was movement in the bushes and the sound of two people breathing. My grandmother set her jaw and stared straight ahead as if she could not hear it. 

Once I had gone to bed that night I heard my mother drive up and park. They began arguing immediately, their voices muffled through the wall. I got up and stood in the dark hallway listening. 

“I told her about Lorcan,” my grandmother said.

“Christ,” my mother half-whispered. “You had no right.”

“Yes, but she has the right to know who her father was.”

I was back in bed with the light out about ten minutes when my mother came in. I sat up to switch on the lamp but she told me not to. She sat in a chair in the dark. She spoke in a monotone, though her breathing was uneven. “As a girl, two years older than you are now, I was involved with the Cause.”

“The Cause?” I asked.

“The Rebellion. I delivered the occasional message. Everyone in Castlemacross was involved in helping the rebels. I had no particular fervent calling . . . not like your. . . not like others did. I look back now and see how mad it was, being involved that way.” She let out a heavy breath. I felt her wanting to say more, but she seemed unable.

She got up suddenly and left me sitting in the dark. 

My mother had always said she had been on the verge of marrying Jack McArdle, as if that made me almost legitimate. But now I wondered if Jack McArdle was real at all. Not even a picture of him existed. Not even a keepsake. The mysterious figure of Lorcan Kelleher had arrived to banish him. Even in the newsprint image I had seen that Lorcan Kelleher was handsome and towered over the two policemen. I wanted something from the idea of Lorcan Kelleher, but the longing led nowhere. He was like a dream that I couldn’t keep hold of and I grew uneasy thinking of him. 

I had never known him. He had never even looked at me.

Very early in the morning when it was still dark, I heard my grandmother passing in the hall, moving slowly, rocking slightly side to side, her breathing audible. When I got up I found her sitting in her chair with the lamp switched on. She looked up at me just as I emerged from the darkness in the hall, and seemed not to know who I was. 

Her eyes were layered with light, as if the lenses of her corneas had thickened overnight, her iron-blue irises cloudy and remote. “The Blackwater River goes to sea at Youghal,” she said to me. “Tooreenkeough was the town. Now they call it Ballydesmond.”

It seemed important what she was telling me, but I had no context for it.

“The coffin ships to America left from Cobh Harbor.” 

I nodded.

“Go get me a cup of tea, there’s a good girl, Violet,” she said. 

From the kitchen, I heard her light a cigarette. When I came back in with the tea, the cigarette was burning in the ashtray and she was asleep. 

After dinner the first night we’d come, she had fallen asleep in this same position, head back, mouth open, her arms stretched out, hands clutching the armrests of the chair as if she had been trying to use them as leverage to get up. 

I set the cup of tea near the ashtray where her cigarette slowly burned down to a long tunnel of ash. 

I watched, anxious for her to wake. The filtered sunlight eventually made its way into the room and burned over her, glinting metallic in her uncombed hair and the wild, slender filaments of her eyebrows, which moved slightly on some otherwise undetected current of air in the room. The fine lines around her mouth appeared like little dark crevices on the lit surface of her face. It was when I touched her forearm that it occurred to me that she might be dead, but I kept waiting for the spell to break, a trembling eyelid, a twitching nostril. I kept waiting for her to turn her head and shake herself out of the hard cold of her slumber. I pulled my legs up into my chair, wrapping my arms around them and kept my eyes on her. 

My mother slept late and when I heard the door of her room open something went dark inside me. I knew my grandmother would not wake up. 

She had been mine so briefly.

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