Being Various: New Irish short stories
Faber, $29.99 pb, 304 pp, 9780571342501
Playwright and author Lucy Caldwell raises the issue of national identity early in her introduction to this long-running anthology series. She grew up in Belfast but lives in London. Her children sing Bengali nursery rhymes and celebrate Eid. She holds two passports, neither of which adequately captures who she is.
‘I feel apologetic and fraudulent to varying degrees, depending on who I’m with, or where I’m going.’ ‘Who is more Irish?’ she asks. Is it the writer born in Ireland who consciously chooses not to live there, or the writer born elsewhere who moves to the island? What about the writer born outside of Ireland whose parents maintain their link to the country through songs, St Patrick’s Day, and a romanticised sense of patriotism for a place they may have never visited? Or, in a scenario that will be recognisable to many contemporary Australian authors: ‘A writer born in Ireland to parents from elsewhere, who constantly has to answer the deathly question, No, but where are you really from?’
The right to identity in a world of porous borders is arguably the greatest philosophical issue of our times. Caldwell chooses an all-encompassing approach in her author selection, commissioning stories from born-and-bred residents like Kevin Barry and Sally Rooney alongside expats Adrian McKinty, Eimear McBride, and Kit De Waal. We are also treated to work from new arrivals, notably Arja Kajermo (Finland), Melatu Uche Okorie (Nigeria), and Chinese sensation Yan Ge.