An Post Irish Book Awards Nonfiction Book of the Year • A Guardian Best Book of 2020 • Shortlisted for the 2021 Rathbones Folio Prize • Longlisted for the 2021 Republic of Consciousness Prize • Winner of the James Tait Black Biography Prize • A New York Times New & Noteworthy Title • Longlisted for the 2021 Gordon Burn Prize • A Buzzfeed Recommended Summer Read • A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2021 • A Book Riot Best Book of 2022 • An NPR Best Book of 2021 • A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2021 • A Globe and Mail Book of the Year • A Winnipeg Free Press Top Read of 2021 • An Entropy Magazine Best of the Year • A LitHub Best Book of 2021 • A New York Times Critics' Top Book of 2021 • A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
When we first met, I was a child, and she had been dead for centuries.
On discovering her murdered husband’s body, an eighteenth-century Irish noblewoman drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary lament. Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s poem travels through the centuries, finding its way to a new mother who has narrowly avoided her own fatal tragedy. When she realizes that the literature dedicated to the poem reduces Eibhlín Dubh’s life to flimsy sketches, she wants more: the details of the poet’s girlhood and old age; her unique rages, joys, sorrows, and desires; the shape of her days and site of her final place of rest. What follows is an adventure in which Doireann Ní Ghríofa sets out to discover Eibhlín Dubh’s erased life—and in doing so, discovers her own.
Moving fluidly between past and present, quest and elegy, poetry and those who make it, A Ghost in the Throat is a shapeshifting book: a record of literary obsession; a narrative about the erasure of a people, of a language, of women; a meditation on motherhood and on translation; and an unforgettable story about finding your voice by freeing another’s.
Irish poet and essayist Ní Ghríofa makes her North American debut with a rich mixed-genre story of her quest to learn about the life of 18th-century poet Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonail, author of "Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire." When Doireann first comes across the poem, about a woman who finds her husband shot dead and drinks the blood pouring from his wound, in high school, it sticks in her head like lyrics from a pop song. Several refrains recur in Ní Ghríofa's narrative of her own life as a writer and middle-aged mother of four, including lines from the poem in her own translation, which she works on alongside her research of the poet's family history and fabrication of Ní Chonail's story, much of which is excised from the public record; snippets of U2's "With or Without You" ("and you give yourself away"), a song Doireann dislikes but which resonates with her daily routine of filling bottles with breast milk for her own children as well as those in need; and the interchangeable "This is a female text," which refers to this book, the "Caoineadh," and even stains of breast milk on a sheet. As Doireann discovers and reveals how she sees herself in the poem and Eibhlín in herself, she leads the reader through an intensely beautiful reckoning. This is a remarkable achievement.