Honesty is the best policy, my granny always told us. However, what is true to one person may not be so for another.
On the one hand, studies show that we are naturally altruistic from an early age, yet other studies have shown that even children have the capacity to lie, if they believe they will not be found out. So make no mistake, truth can be a very fluid concept.
That being said, I do believe there exists within all of us a universal truth, calling for all that is just and fair. My three book choices this week are all very different but share a common search for that universal truth.
‘The Truths We Hold: An American Journey’, by Kamala Harris and just published by Penguin Books, is about the power of truth to unite us. Harris’s story starts in 1988, when she was a summer intern in Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland, California. She went on to become a public prosecutor, the elected District Attorney of San Francisco and Attorney General of California, followed by a junior Senator for California in 2017.
The book is about Harris’s own search for truth and justice, and her willingness to take responsible positions where she could enact change.
In a sense, there may be nothing new in her tales of the wrongs she has encountered – which have included structural racism, health-care deficiencies, self-interested corporations, the lack of reproductive rights for women, and the denial of education to so many for so many reasons. Yet what is compelling, and endearing (and I say this because I believe it was not written to proclaim her own brilliance or to engender sympathy) about this telling, is that she tells it from her own experience and the stories of the people she encounters along the way.
Harris has learnt that often the answer is in the details of those people’s stories and that everyone’s story matters. I was deeply moved to think that this female voice missing from so much of our politics could finally have arrived as the Vice President of the United States.
‘Words to Shape My Name’, by Laura McKenna, just published by New Island Books, is about the attainment of personal, political and civil liberty in Ireland in the late 1700s.
A historical fiction, it centres around one of the most romantic figures in Irish history, Lord Edward Fitzgerald of Leinster House, and Tony Small, a slave who saved Lord Edward’s life on a battlefield in the Carolinas.
Tony, now freed from slavery became his lifelong servant and companion. After Lord Edward’s death in 1798, Edward’s sister Lucy commissioned Tony to retell the story of her beloved brother who had been a leading figure in organising the 1798 rebellion against the British in Ireland, and who was killed during his arrest for his activities.
‘Words to Shape My Name’ is an epic story of the beginnings of rebellion in Ireland, of the sacrifices made by the likes of Lord Edward who came from privilege but sought a more just society where others denied this privilege did not languish in poverty. It is also the story of Tony Small himself, being a freed American slave and what that freedom really meant to him and later his daughter in 1850s London.
Interestingly, the book also explores the contradictions behind what really motivates us to seek change, and who are we really helping.
My last choice this week is ‘The Art of Falling’, by Danielle McLaughlin, just published by John Murray Publishers. A fictional story about how truths withheld can deny us our freedom in the end, it set in the Ireland of today.
Nessa is an art curator, wife and mother who becomes embroiled in a mystery surrounding a famous long-dead sculptor whose work is about to go on display in the museum where she works.
Nessa has revered his sculptures for many years, and as an art historian, she believes in the power of art to inspire us. However, as untruths are revealed from the artist’s life, she is left questioning the value of his work, now possibly corrupted. Intertwined with her life, where her own secrets are unfolding, Nessa gets to explore the power that truths and untruths can hold over one’s life.
Does the old adage ‘the truth will set you free’ ring true? I wonder.
Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.