Monday, February 27, 2012

The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry

A heart-wrenching novel about painful abuses in Irish Catholic Institutions


Deborah Henry's new historical novel, THE WHIPPING CLUB (T.S Poetry Press, March 2012) is a literary page-turner and a tale of redemption, set against the backdrop of violence and deeply entrenched prejudice in 1960s Ireland as told through the heartrending experience of one inter-faith family. In it, an Irish Catholic woman, Marian, in love with a Jewish journalist hides the birth of her out-of-wedlock child to save her future marriage. The child she has relinquished does not end up with an American family as promised. Instead, he is committed to a notorious Catholic orphanage where there is little hope for his survival.

Tormented by feelings of remorse and guilt that have plagued her throughout her marriage to the boy's father, the woman must confront the truth and reveal her long-buried secret. While putting her marriage and family at risk, she determines to save her son and in so doing correct the terrible wrongs of her own past and challenge a system that chronically serves up children to abusive clergy.

Using a hidden Ireland as a backdrop, an island in which thousands of adults and children were forcibly separated in the 1950's and 1960's, the novel explores the sacrificial secrets we keep to protect our loved ones and their impact on a marriage, a family and a society. THE WHIPPING CLUB raises powerful questions about the nature of sin, guilt, and redemption by chronicling a young boy's perilous travels through a corrupt system and one couple's heartbreaking struggle to bring him home.

The Whipping Club is a timely novel that makes a powerful statement, revealing the sufferings of victims and families at the hands of the Catholic Church in the mid 1900’s. Although the story focuses on Ireland’s orphanages, Magdalene Laundries, and homes for unwed mothers, parallels can be drawn in many other countries where survivors of similar institutions are coming forward.

The story centers around one family. Marian is a Catholic teacher at a Zionist school who falls in love with a young Jewish man named Ben. When she discovers she is pregnant, she tries to tell Ben, but his mother’s antagonism at her religious background forces her to keep her secret. Instead, she enters into a special hospital/home for unwed mothers where she puts her son up for adoption, assured he will find a good family in America.

Marian and Ben marry and they have a young daughter. All seems perfect until one day, she learns the son she gave up for adoption is still in the Catholic orphanage she originally left him in. Ben and Marian take legal action to acquire custody of their son, Adrian, and begin to assimilate him into their lives. But he is under the custody of the nuns at the orphanage and they, together with the court system, maintain their hold and custody of the boy.

Not for the faint of heart, this novel addresses several complicated and painful issues that are coming forward in today’s society. For the sake of the survivors, it is important to learn about what truly happened, to understand, and to learn from these mistakes so that such things never occur again. As a Catholic myself, it was a shattering experience to read about the harsh punishments, cruelties, and sexual abuse against innocent children and the prejudices against unwed mothers. I admired the fact the author took care to not only portray depraved or cruel religious members, but also those who were loving and kind, albeit the former outweighed the latter in numbers.

What I admire is that the author had the courage to deal with such contentious issues such as deeply ingrained religious beliefs, transgressions, mercy, and the devastating consequences of not speaking out. This novel has depth and punch. It is not a light read – one should not skim over the words light-heartedly. Rather, readers need to prepare themselves to face a realm of emotions as they read and try to understand the true purpose for which the author wrote such a story. This heart-wrenching tragic drama has depth and richness. Despite the painful topic, the author leaves the reader with hope at the end. Bravo Deborah Henry for having the courage to address such tragic and painful realities in our recent past.

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