Author : Rachael English
Title : The Paper Bracelet
Pages : 388
Publisher : Hachette Ireland
Publication date : February 27, 2020
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
For almost fifty years, Katie Carroll has kept a box tucked away inside her wardrobe. It dates from her time working as a nurse in a west of Ireland mother and baby home in the 1960s. The box contains a notebook holding the details of the babies and young women she met there. It also holds many of the babies’ identity bracelets.
Following the death of her husband, Katie makes a decision. The information she possesses could help reunite adopted people with their birth mothers, and she decides to post a message on an internet forum. Soon the replies are rolling in, and Katie finds herself returning many of the bracelets to their original owners. She encounters success and failure, heartbreak and joy. But is she prepared for old secrets to be uncovered in her own life?
| MY THOUGHTS |
I’m sure many of you have heard about the mother and baby homes before. It’s a dark era in Ireland’s past (though not only there) and for some reason a topic that I just can’t stop reading about or watch documentaries about, even though it’s often extremely upsetting.
In Rachael English’s latest novel, we meet Katie. She used to work as a nurse at a mother and baby home. During her time there, she kept a notebook with information about the mothers and babies she met, as well as many of the babies’ paper bracelets. Now, fifty years later, Katie decides it’s time to use her knowledge to reunite birth mothers with their children.
Interspersed throughout the story are chapters dealing with the mother and baby care home where Katie worked. The reader meets Patricia and it’s through her eyes that the harsh circumstances these women found themselves in are laid bare. Effectively abandoned by their families, they found little sympathy in the home. It didn’t matter where they came from, how old they were or how they fell pregnant. They were sinners and that was that.
Under the guidance of Catholic nuns, who quite frankly clearly lost their Christian ways if you ask me, they were stripped of their names and their identities. They were forced to work the fields, or in the blazing heat of a laundrette while months pregnant … can you even imagine? Some were even forced to stay at the home to work off their debt, after their babies had been given up for adoption. It’s not at all surprising to learn that some birth mothers just didn’t want to be faced with their past and somehow tried to erase that part of their lives from their memory. Different times indeed but scary to realise, they really weren’t that long ago.
It feels wrong somehow to say that I enjoyed those chapters the most. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy reading about Katie and her experiences, or the characters she meets along the way. But there was something about Patricia’s chapters that kept pulling me back in and I could quite happily have read an entire book about her life at the home. I couldn’t at all figure out how, or even if, the two strands of the story fitted together. But all the while, I tried to match some of the adopted children to the women at the home while Patricia was there. These now adult children the reader meets, lead very different lives. Some never left Ireland, some were adopted by people in America. Some are having a hard time, others are rich and seemingly happy. One is even a rockstar. Some have always known they were adopted, some only found out recently. But they all want to know where they came from.
I am a huge fan of Rachael English’s writing and with The Paper Bracelet she manages to tell this heartbreaking story beautifully. I often felt quite emotional while reading, even may have had a lump in my throat and that doesn’t happen often. As a journalist, Rachael came into contact with women from a mother and baby home in the early nineties and The Paper Bracelet is inspired by those interviews. These women’s stories should never be forgotten.
Thousands of women were continuing to live with a bitter legacy, and many were doing so in secret. These were the women who had been treated like criminals when some were the victims of crime. Their children had been taken from them and they’d been warned that any attempt to find their son or daughter was illegal. I wanted to try and bring the mothers and the women who ran the homes to life. It’s too easy to portray the nuns as caricatures of evil and the mothers as devoid of wit and personality. I hope I’ve done them justice. – Rachael English
You have, Rachael. You most definitely have.
My thanks to Rachael English for sending me a beautiful review copy! The Paper Bracelet is available to buy!