Born in suburban Boston, where being Irish is a badge of social status, Edith Shillue traveled to Ireland's northeast corner in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement-the historic 1998 peace treaty that promised to end war as a way of life in Northern Ireland. Spending time in both the middle-class environs of South Belfast and the rougher areas of Derry's housing estates, she recorded the prevailing moods of this long-troubled land as she lived and worked with its plain-speaking citizens. Whether reading in a library, listening to a café conversation, or transcribing legal documents, her keen powers of observation are always on display. The result is a revealing portrait of a people and a place caught between past and future during a time of profound change.
Shillue's encounter with Northern Ireland evokes comparison with an earlier journey she took to Viet Nam, another "post-war zone." Here, as there, she examines the function and protection of coded language, the burdens of tradition, and the comic yet painful testing of allegiance to ethnic identities. In daily conversation, the physical landscape, and the small, persistent gestures that help people survive difficult circumstances, she observes the separate identities of Ireland and describes their collision in both personal and political arenas. In so doing, she reveals her own Irish and American identities, both of which elicit warmth and understanding from her Irish acquaintances.