Mina Paperback – Mar 29 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The hardships of poverty and displacement are tempered with hope, determination and the will to survive in this well-researched debut historical novel. Fifteen-year-old Mina is still resilient despite great suffering, having lost her sister and parents during Ireland's potato famine. In 1848, she and her only living relative, brother Daniel, begin a treacherous journey to America, but soon become separated. Mina outruns further peril by escaping to a grand estate in the English countryside, where she finds work as a kitchen assistant. Forced to hide her flaming red hair (" 'the devil's gift' "), dress as a boy and answer to Paddy, she is unable to trust anyone with her secret exceptperhapsthe chef, Mr. Serle, a dark-skinned, mysterious man, who "like a god in an old story... happens when and where he is wanted." The unlikely pair prepare food by dayCeely's descriptions of a Victorian kitchen are deliciously vividand share their painful memories by night. The relationship between the two foreigners blossoms, but can they fully trust each other? Ceely's prose is graceful, but the pacing slows markedly as the protagonists' stories unfold, keeping readers at arm's length. A final burst of energy and suspense livens the conclusion, and fans of the genre will appreciate Ceely's light touch and historical consistency.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Ceely's novel is the tale of the friendship between a young Irish girl who disguises herself as a boy to work on an estate and the estate's mysterious chef. As far as anyone knows, 15-year-old Mina Pigot is really a scrappy Irish lad who goes by the name of Paddy. When a startled horse steps on Mina's foot and breaks it, Mr. Serle, the quiet, reserved chef, offers to let her work in his kitchen. Although the other kitchen boy, Tom, torments her, Mina enjoys the work. When Mr. Serle falls ill from a fever, she cares for him, becoming curious about his feverish ramblings. It isn't long before he discovers she isn't a boy, and over a series of quiet evenings, she shares with him the sad story of her flight from Ireland. Mr. Serle has a secret, too, but Mina will have to overcome her prejudices to sympathize with him. Although the novel is somewhat slow moving and the plot is thin, Ceely captures the period perfectly with vivid description and minute historical detail. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I expected more of a love story to come of the relationship between Mina and Mr. Serle, but the ending was a bit more believable, the relationship a bit more complicated, without a love interest growing.
I hope to see more from Ms. Ceely.
The language in this novel is original and lovely. The descriptions of the food preparation and the daily lives of the servants are very rich.
Mina is a wonderful story that Ceely takes the time to tell in exquisite detail. She does not sell it short with a quick or predictable ending. The novel stayed with me long after I completed it.
Just some advice: please concentrate on whether or not you liked the book and not give away any plot details to readers who might not have read the book yet.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Serle informs Mina that he is a Jew who fled the poverty of the Rome ghetto. He too dreams of America where he hopes to one day open a restaurant and make his fortune. Both begin to wonder if they pool their resources, could they achieve what they failed to accomplish separately. That means trusting the other something neither is used to doing.
MINA is a deep historical tale that shines a powerful microscope on mid nineteenth century Ireland and England. The story line is incredibly descriptive as Jonatha Ceely fill MINA with historical data like the workings of a Victorian kitchen, but that also keeps the pace of the plot at a leisurely stroll. Still genre fans will take delight with this insightful picturesque look back at a bygone era through the eyes of two survivors that is ideal fill in reading over a few days.
Mina is quite a beautiful historical novel with attention to detail and a dark, compelling story that will keep you reading until its final pages. You get a glimpse of poverty in nineteenth century England and Ireland and the things the Irish had to go through to survive. The story is quite poignant, but with a touch of hopefulness that keeps you wanting the best things to happen to the main characters. Serle is a wonderful character who takes Mina under his wing and has nothing but her best interests at heart, even during the times when she expresses her prejudice toward Jews when she had no idea that he was Jewish. Mina is also a great heroine with flaws as well as virtues. She is exasperating when she isn't compelling and I enjoyed the parts in which she nurses Serle when he suffers from a bout of Malaria. Those were some very touching scenes. The best thing about this novel is the setting. I love this unique backdrop of Victorian's underbelly and life of poverty. I also liked the descriptions of the kitchen and the food. It made me hungry when reading those very descriptive parts. The first-person narrative (Mina's POV) isn't always likeable and I would have preferred the narrative to be in third person. I think it would have worked better that way. The story lags in the middle toward the end, but gains strength in the final chapters. All in all, as said before, Mina is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that, aside from a few flaws, is wonderful and readable and I cannot recommend this book enough.
Grateful for food and shelter, she feels lucky to have found a place on this English country estate, but it's a precarious place. The estate manager, suspicious of Paddy, as they call the Irish, startles a horse into injuring the `boy' and turns him off as unfit for work. But the shorthanded cook, Mr. Serle, a dark foreigner, takes him into the kitchen.
The back-stories of Serle and Mina unfold amid the daily life of the estate. Though the servants (except for Serle) aren't much more sympathetic than the gentry, Mina keeps her secrets and learns her work from sun-up to well after sundown. Ceely treats us to the aromas of baking bread and roasting meat, the skill of regulating the ovens and ranges, the plucking and peeling and beating and layering and timing of meals for a dozen, twenty or more.
Mina's narration, full of grief and hope and determination, but frightened of bullies like the senior kitchen boy, sometimes seems too timid, too ready to cry. Who wouldn't be with the life she's had, but it's not the tone of a hero. And while the reader knows that Serle is a Jew, Mina seems impervious to his disappointment every time she makes a remark about Jewish child killers and devil worshipers. Nonetheless, when Serle falls delirious with a bout of malaria, Mina nurses him. He's her only ally, true, but she has also grown to care for him.
Once he discovers her masquerade, her secrets begin to tumble out - her horrific experiences trying to emigrate, and after, losing everything and forced to run. This material might have worked better in flashback than in conversation (well, mostly monologue) as it is an exciting tale, which loses some of its immediacy in the telling. The same is true of Serle's story, when it comes.
But the workings of the estate, the venality of people's behavior toward one another, and the social realities of the time ring true. Mina's ignorance and timidity, while sometimes trying, feels authentic and her story is a touching, rousing tale. An absorbing and well-researched debut.
The road each has traveled to arrive and work in the same kitchen is an important one and holds many clues about the people they were and have become. Mina is fifteen and almost ignorantly Irish-Catholic; the victim of Ireland's famine. Mr. Serle, an Italian Jew, is the casualty of Christian hatred and more. Ceely, handles this with arresting, salient prose which keeps the story from drifting to a muffled dead narrative wherein a novel like this (the exchanging of two main characters stories) can so easily slip.
What is so laudable about MINA is how credibly the friction and tension is explored between Mina and Serle which springs up so appropriately, yet, not explosively. Cultural differences are explained, words exchanged and pondered, still for Mina things don't always make sense but Serle prods her to keep her mind open and their companionship is key and lovingly stroked by the author.
Though set during the famine, this novel carries with it many notions and ideals still pertinent to us today.
(Note -- Mina's change of gender is not a spoiler)