Originally published: 1992
Author: Rose Tremain
Set in: Suffolk, UK
Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBT
Page count: 391
Reading dates: 20-26 Apr 2018
Star Rating: 4/5
“The book was ahead of its time in terms of a compassionate, non-sensationalist reflection of the trials and tribulations often faced by people who realise they are not the gender they were told they were.” Peter Tatchell
Gifted to our book club by Brighton City Reads, this turned out to be a popular books amongst our members.
Starting in 1950s Suffolk we meet 6 year old Mary Ward who has a revelation. I am not Mary. That is a mistake. I am not a girl I am a boy.
We follow Mary’s heroic struggle to change gender. A good deal of the book is set in Suffolk which feels claustrophobic and depressing and it is there we get to know other characters, including Walter who is destined to become a butcher but just wants to sing; Mary’s parents Sonny (a strict, war damaged farmer) and Estelle who suffers mental health issues and often spends time in an asylum; Edward Harker a cricket bat maker how believes in reincarnation and his wife Irene and her baby daughter Pearl whom Mary adores.
The book then moves to London in the mid 60s where Mary becomes Martin and begins her journey to become the man she believes she is, and then to Nashville, Tennessee in the 1970s.
Told sometimes by the author and sometimes by one of the characters, it feels a little depressing at times – no one ever seems to be very happy. There are some lovely characters however who love and support Mary, particularly her grandfather Cord, her old school teacher and Edward Harker.
I think the overall theme of the novel is achieving acceptance. I enjoyed it and would be keen to read more of her work.
“I’m delighted that SACRED COUNTRY has been chosen for Brighton City Reads. It seems to me that this city, with its long tradition of tolerance and its talent for celebration is a place where Mary/Martin could have found happiness. To make this book live again for Brighton readers will be an honour.”