Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Post-prandial reading

Malcolm has regular on-sets of reading block. The period after Christmas is, inevitably, one such. On this occasion it is exacerbated by his cold.

His traditional remedy (for the block: the cold has to take its course, aided on its way by spirituous liquors) is something light. The oeuvre of Carl Hiaasen has been a sure-fire road to recovery from previous bouts. This year, though, he will try something else.

Back in 2004, Giles Milton opened (at least for Malcolm) a new vein of revisionary history. Milton's White Gold tells the story of Thomas Pellow, captured by Salee rovers slave-raiding on Cornwall, who then spent two decades as a Muslim convert in the service of the Sultan of Morocco, before escaping home. As a piece of romantic fiction, Milton's account would stretch credence. Yet it has a solid basis in factual research.

This was followed up by Des Ekin's The Stolen Village, an interpretation of Morat Rais's 1631 raid on Baltimore, West Cork:
... altogether fifty youngsters ‘even those in the cradle’ were abducted, along with thirty-four women and nearly two dozen men.

Today the ‘Sack of Baltimore’ has been virtually forgotten by the world.

Of the 107 abducted from Baltimore, only two -- both women -- returned. Ekin's is not the best-written book in sight, and his first-hand accounts are far slighter than those available to Milton. It's a worth-while effort, all the same.

In defence of his desired reputation of being, occasionally, serious, Malcolm is anxious to add that this led onto some serious reading. The history of the attempts to suppress North African piracy focus on the noble actions of the new United States Navy in bringing that about. European governments were prepared to pay the equivalent of Danegeld. Several writers, in different ways, have thereby added their weight to Malcolm's shelf problem: Gregory Fremont-Barnes, Frederick C. Leiner, Richard Zacks and Ian W. Toll are examples. Zacks seems particularly relevant in his narrative of how a handful of US Marines, under William Eaton, sorted the problem on land: compare what the spokespersons for the US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, are saying about the present Somali pirates.

Now Malcolm aims to overcome his reading-block with a double-helping of swash and buckle: the "Hector Lynch" novels of Tim Severin (a Doctor of Letters of both TCD and UCC, so give due respect). The starting point here is 1677, and a raid on an unnamed Irish village, in which Lynch, aged seventeen, is taken captive. There can be little coincidence in Severin's home being Timoleague.

Doubtless, Malcolm will report in due course on the efficacy of the remedy. Sphere: Related Content

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