Minnesota Seniors Online

THE CROOKED BRANCH
BY JEANINE CUMMINS
REVIEWED BY
LINDA WICKLUND

I don't often say that I love a book, but this is one. It's not that I'm that critical - I hope.  But this historical novel touched me because of the way in which it blended two women's stories of desperation and loss.  As I'm sure I've mentioned before even a fictional novel can teach us so much.

In this case, in 1896, Ginny Doyle is suffering through the Great Hunger often called the potato famine. Then in present day Majella's story is a first time Mother struggling to cope with caring for her baby girl, Emma.  She feels as though she is failing her and might even have mental health problems. When Majella finds a diary that belonged to her great, great Grandmother Ginny Doyle, she is even more worried. Because after reading part of the diary she tells her therapist "There are all different kinds of crazy, but mostly I think it's ancestral."

Ginny's story begins with the start of Ireland's potato famine. Overnight a noxious fog blows into the western shores of Ireland.  Ginny and Raymond look out at their decimated fields.  Everywhere they look there is nothing but rot. Ginny looks back at her four children but she "could never conceive of the kind of suffering that would follow."

 Majella's story starts with her first visit to a psychiatrist. She believes her depression is more than post-partum depression.  She tells the doctor that she thinks she is going crazy. For clarification she tells him 'Like actual crazy, not fun-crazy." Majella tells her story in the first person and sometimes adds a bit of humor to lighten the story.

Ginny and her husband Raymond's primary concern is paying the rent.  They decided that their only hope was for Raymond to go to America to find work and send money back to his family.  They sold enough oats and their hog to pay the rent. Because, if you didn't pay the English landlords you would be thrown out of your cottage and they would burn it to the ground!  From this point the hardships they endure are hard to fathom.  Ginny watches as her family and neighbors begin to literally starve to death. Then Ginny hears that an estate nearby needs a chambermaid. She makes the agonizing decision to leave her children and go to work at Spring Hill. So Ginny sets off to see if she can be hired as the new chambermaid.  Leaving her eldest daughter Maire in charge of her three younger siblings.

You might think that Majella's story and unhappiness doesn't compare to Ginny's agonizing problems. But, to Majella it's devastating because she wants so badly to be her old self-assured self and to be the great Mother she dreamed of. She feels isolated from her family and friends.  She reaches out to her Mother who hasn't made any attempt to see Emma and when Majella calls her for support her Mom says, "Listen I don't have long, I'm about to run to water aerobics."

There is so, so much more to this novel that I'm sure you'll find both heartbreaking and believable in both of these two women's lives.  In spite of the huge time difference in their experiences both Mothers are determined to protect their children at any cost.

In closing, I read quite a lot and I'd say this is the best book I've read this year!

Happy reading!