The Land of Spices available in Paperback
Mere Marie-Helene once turned her back on life, sealing up her heart in order to devote herself to God. Now the formidable Mother Superior of an Irish convent, she has, for some time, been experiencing grave doubts about her vocation. But when she meets Anna Murphy, the youngest-ever boarder, the little girl's solemn, poetic nature captivates her and she feels 'a storm break in her hollow heart'. Between them an unspoken allegiance is formed that will sustain each through the years as the Reverend Mother seeks to combat her growing spiritual aridity and as Anna develops the strength to resist the conventional demands of her background.
About the Author
Kate O'Brien (1897-1974), one of Ireland's greatest and best-loved writers, was born in Limerick. As well as writing plays, travel, and biography, she published nine wonderful novels.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Our interactions with others-business colleagues in the conference room, family members with whom we watch SNL re-runs, friends we meet for coffee and conversation-have an inner spaciousness we occasionally get the chance of glimpsing. The mystery of another person with his inner expansive world is hard to behold and even harder-with the rush of noise, schedules, and our own inner busyness-to remember is in existence. We can live our entire lives with an impoverished understanding of the richness of others' interiority. The Land of Spices helps us remember. This sensitive, keen, and strongly woven novel is about Helen, the Mother Superior of a convent school in Mellick (Limerick). She is inspired by her young student Anna to resolve old, painful memories of her homosexual father. Anna in turn receives guidance and help to respond to a tragic accident and her subsequent grief. Inspiration for this reconciliation and consolation are triggered by the ability to recognize another's fathomless inner life. And though the story deals with this inner interplay, there is a lack of self-pity and even self-interest that consumes so many similar stories; likewise, the diction-which could fall prey to the sloppy slush of emotional stories-remains concrete, rich, and wise. Those interested in twentieth-century Irish history will find this of particular interest: written in 1941, it draws from its decade's concerns and issues in an elegant, unconventional way, capturing the lives of middle-class Catholic families as they are finding their place in a changed Ireland. And anyone familiar with the gentle and incredible wisdom of the Al-Anon life and literature will recognize the importance of not only cherishing another's inner life, but realizing it is not ours to posses or change, even with good intent. The Land of Spices might be an unusual summer read-but what a rich and worthwhile land you will find. With its musical, intuitive intrigue, who knows but how you might see those around you anew.
In a convent school in the Ireland of the 1930s, O'Brien weaves the parallel tales of a sensitive young pupil and the lonely mother superior who sees promise in her. Anna Murphey, daughter of an alcoholic father, weak mother, and dictatorial grandmother, finds solace only in the companionship of her younger brother, Charlie. Away at school from a young age, Anna's academic talents create a barrier between her and her classmates, and they run her afoul of certain of the most jealous nuns. Compounding Anna's problems is the fact that she is emotionally isolated from her mostly useless family. Her drunk father, her dominating grandmother, and her spineless mother all exist outside of Anna's emotional world. O'Brien is clearly cognizant of the dangers of convent education for sensitive young women like Anna. The book suggests that loneliness and unhappiness is the lot of the thinking, feeling woman, as epitomized by Anna and the mother superior. Loneliness is endemic. The only happy women in the book are some of the simpering, unthinking elder students. The book also provides a strong indictment against the provincialism of Irish nationalism. The Irish nationalists in O'Brien's work are univerally short-sighted and unsure of why they support their cause. In short, they are incapable of seeing the forest for the trees. This is an interesting, thinking novel, which provides a fascinating look at life in a convent school.
Set in an Irish convent school in the early years of the 20th century, The Land of Spices is a novel that covers the school career of Anna Murphy, who comes to Compagnie de la Sainte Famille at the ago of six. She attracts the attention of the Reverend Mother, an Englishwoman who watches Anna from afar during the eight or ten years that Anna remains at the school.I¿ve had good luck and bad with Kate O¿Brien¿s novels; I disliked The Ante Room but loved Mary Lavelle. The Land of Spices falls into the ¿love¿ category for me. I wasn¿t sure that a novel set in a convent school would be my cup of tea, but the novel in a greater sense is about human relationships, not just religion and spiritually. It¿s also obviously a coming of age novel, about how one girl changes and adapts to her surroundings, even though her home life isn¿t ideal. There¿s an interesting contrast with the life of Reverend Mother, whose past as Helen Archer is revealed bit by bit. They have an unspoken bond with one another, even though Anna doesn¿t realize it. There are some really beautiful observations here about the impact that two totally different people can have on one of another.My only problem with the book is that throughout the book there are excerpts of letters written in French and other languages, which reveal key plot points but are kind of meaningless if you don¿t speak those languages. But in all, this is a really powerful book.