“Ireland should belong to the Irish.”
Was that such a difficult concept to understand? It seemed rather simple to the men in the Ryan family. Emmet Ryan was determined to follow in the footsteps of his father and his elder brothers and join the Fingal Volunteers despite what his mother might say on the subject. He was sixteen, he was a man, and he was determined to be a part of Éirí Amach na Cásca, The Easter Rising. Even after the subsequent internment of the Fingal Volunteers, Emmet felt that The Cause was worth the danger, worth the sacrifice. It was way past the time for Ireland to become an independent republic free from British rule.
However, there was more than one way to win a war. Emmet was clever, quick. He could do more damage with a pen and paper than he could with a gun. And although being a journalist did not seem quite as glamorous as the war his brother, Kevin, and his best friend, Liam, fought, it was still incredibly important.
Emmet loved Ireland. He was of Ireland. Ireland was in his blood. The Cause justified the means. But then on one auspicious evening down the pub, Liam pointed out a young woman whose red hair cascaded in waves down her back, and Emmet would soon find himself wondering — if he had to choose between The Cause and those he loved, which would he choose?
From the fanciful patriotic excitement of a sixteen-year-old boy on the eve of the 1916 Easter Rising to the 1943 Commemoration of the Rising at the Broadway Cinema, Torn Asunder by Renny deGroot is the story of one young man as he navigates life, love, family, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
With an enthralling narrative that left my heart pounding in fearful anticipation for the protagonists and a story that is as compelling as it is powerful, Torn Asunder is a fabulous work of fiction set during an extraordinary violent time in Irish history. Through deGroot’s carefully crafted prose, I felt as if I had been transported back in time to the early 20th Century and was witnessing the events that led up to the Irish Civil War and beyond.
Not only does deGroot tell the story of Emmet Ryan with an impressive sweep and brilliance, but she also has a novelist’s understanding of what makes history worth reading. This novel is tautly gripping, so much so that I found it near on impossible to put down. This is the kind of book that demands your attention and certainly commands your respect.
The historical detailing of this book has to be commended. deGroot depicts this period in history with a confidence that can only be gained by many long hours of research. Reading this book was effortless, I am sure the hours of research that went into it was not, but it has certainly paid off. There is an authority in deGroot’s writing, an assurance that deGroot knows what she is talking about. Torn Asunder is a truly gripping account of family, war, and to an extent, historical controversy. And what a story it is.
The story is told, for the most part, from Emmet Ryan’s perspective. Emmet is an unlikely hero. He is swept up in the patriotic fever that gripped the nation and his family. He is determined to do his bit for The Cause, but he realises very quickly that he might not be suited to a soldier’s life. Emmet is an intellect. He is uncommonly good with words, which makes him the ideal commentator, the voice behind the speeches. His press pass also means he has access to places that others cannot enter. Emmet is, however, a very honourable man, and he wants to be both a patriot and a husband. His passion for The Cause never leaves, despite the many things that happen in this book. His dismay at the Anglo-Irish Treaty and in particular the fact that Ireland was split between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland was a bitter pill for him to swallow, as it was for many. He is steadfast in his beliefs, and despite life getting in the way of The Cause, he does remain a loyal disciple. I thought Emmet’s depiction was brilliant. He believes in what he is fighting for wholeheartedly, and yet he is also rational enough to know when to take a step back.
Another character who becomes more prevalent in the second half of this book is Emmet’s daughter, Maeve. Maeve grew up with stories of the Easter Rising and the subsequent Civil War, and although Emmet told his tales because he wants his children to be proud of their heritage, Maeve takes the stories to heart a little more than what Emmet had expected. Maeve is a young woman who knows her own mind but is heavily influenced by her father and her Uncle Liam. However, neither men want Maeve to become involved with the IRA, it is too dangerous. I adored Maeve. She is this wonderful woman who is determined to do her bit, however small, to help her country. Her relationship with Daniel, a young English man, is also incredibly sweet — it is full of starlight and first kisses. This is a young heroine that takes up her father’s story and The Cause with determination, but she is also wise enough to know, as her father was, when to walk away.
There are, as you would expect, some historical figures in this book — from Sir Roger Casement to Michael Collins, and although many of these names are mentioned only in passing, they still, especially in Collins’ case, unwittingly drive the narrative in this story.
Torn Asunder by Renny deGroot is a fabulous novel that not only captured my attention but kept it throughout. It is immensely readable and absolutely irresistible. When historical fiction is written in such a way, then there is no such thing as too much.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.