By Tirthankar Mitra
It is a morning knock but is no less sinister than a midnight one as Dublin microbiologist Eilish Stack comes face to face with state’s totalitarianism as powers that seek to interrogate her trade unionist husband Larry. It is in this way Paul Lynch, an Irish author begins the book ’Prophet Song’ in the backdrop of Dublin’s descent into dystopia.. The book just got the Booker Prize for this year..
It is a fine act of emotional storytelling. It is an empathy in words sadly missed these days and it is in its own way brave.
In an imaginary Ireland that is descending into tyranny, Stack’s world is upended as Larry disappears in the stranglehold of state machinery. Does it sound familiar to those who had witnessed in their youth and teens Emergency promulgated by Congress government of Indira Gandhi?
Of late in West Bengal, the nightmarish scenario visited an academic of a state university when he tried to make a harmless joke quoting a dialogue from a Satyajit Ray film about sudden ministerial change in the Union Cabinet orchestrated from Kolkata. In Prophet Song Larry’s disappearance is followed by the breakout of a civil war in Ireland.
Lynch’s fifth novel Prophet Song is about dark shades that may very well become a reality. It won the Booker Prize for literature this year pulling no punches as it unsettlingly depicts life of Stack in a country in the cusp of irreversible change.
Many a reader in India will identify with the storyline as Eilish is left to look after their four children and her elderly father as she fights to hold her family together as civil war rages outside.
Call it happenstance or coincidence, days after Lynch’s announcement as the Booker winner, three children were injured in a stabbing attack outside a primary school in central Dublin. Expressing his astonishment, Lynch a former film critic said that always “this kind of energy is below the surface”.
Looking further, one finds Prophet Song echoes the violence in Palestine, Ukraine and Syria. It is also about the experience of all those who flee from war torn countries. Here is the dark story of a society that descends into war. But though set in the backdrop of an imaginary Ireland, it resonates far beyond it.
It is also a story about Mother Courage. She is determined to protect her brood.., Prophet Song is an important book in an uncertain age. It has a feel for implosion latent in every society. Lynch makes it clear he is not a political novelist. Nor did he pen the book to voice a warning.
It articulates the message that the things written about in this novel are timelessly occurring throughout the world. There is need to deepen collective responses to this idea. All said and done, it is a nightmarish story. Powerful, claustrophobic and horribly real, it is truly a masterful work of fiction.
The author has spoken how this work is his way of interpreting the political chaos around the world. It seems to be a take on the immigrant crisis and the West’s apathy towards it. In the author’s words the book is an endeavour at “radical empathy”. Stack is asked by a character to leave her beleaguered country.
She says “History is a silent record of people who did not know when to leave.” Does it evoke memories of hurried flights of a generation from post Partition East Pakistan and even later to a country where they would be sneered at as refugees?
Yet some people dug in their heels and hung in at a land that has been home which has suddenly turned hostile. (IPA Service)