on March 25, 2001
If you think Rose Tremain's "Sacred Country" is anything like Virginia Woolf's "Orlando", you're wrong because Mary Ward didn't take centuries and successive reincarnations to morph into Martin. She had one mortal life to live and became Martin in that time. In short, Mary was a transexual, a boy trapped in a girl's body, who suffered great torment as a daughter to the brutish farmer, Sonny and his hapless spaced-out wife, Estelle who spends her life shuttling between the funny farm and home. Mary's struggle to come to terms with herself would have been intolerable in provincial Suffolk if not for the support of grandad Cord, schoolmistress Ms McRae and batmaker Edward Harker, all shining examples of humanity in a community constricted by a numbing lack of imagination. There's the goodhearted but dim witted and conventional minded Irene and the ever pragmatic Grace who hasn't the imagination to understand why her son, Walter needs to seek salvation in faraway Nashville as a country & western singer. Just as Mary finds her own support group, Walter relies on his uncle, Peter to inspire him. Even Timmy, Mary's brother, finally escapes to find fulfillment in a vocation that would break his father's heart. "Sacred Country" is a novel about the isolation and loneliness of non-conformists. The ghost-like figure of Livia (Estelle's mother, Cord's wife) symbolises the spirit of adventure and heroism. She hovers silently above the community like a big bird urging everyone to their own destinies. Mary took nearly three decades (from the day King George died in 1952) to become Martin. In that time, the world has changed, but have we ? "Sacred Country" is behind it all an ode to human courage. Tremain is a tremendous writer. She has written a novel that will endure. Highly recommended.
on November 4, 1998
Sacred Country is one of the most profound novels I have read. I first read the book at a time in my life when identity was a vague notion I could not define. Sacred Country, with its hero/heroine of Martin/Mary encouraged me to find exactly what it was I was looking for, and to be selfish in going to find it. As a girl, Mary is troubled and tortured and as a man, Martin is content but far from happy. Rose Tremain weaves her plots with an intimacy which is astounding and the voices she gives her characters are utterly real. As an introduction to the author, you will not be disappointed (be sure to endure the first chapter, though) and if you're expanding your Tremain library then this is a must-have. One of my favourite novels of all time.
on January 5, 1999
This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. For the week it took me to read I was part of Mary/Martin's life. This is not just a book of gender identity, but of the obstacles of life and growing up. Rose Tremain takes us through the amazing and painful journey of a 6 year old girl who makes the realization that she is really a boy through the characters early twenties where she is in the process of becoming a man. Although his/her father always wanted a boy and blames her/him for the fact that he doesn't have one, his/her realization is not one that he would ever accept. It has been over a year since I read this book and although I have never had gender identity problems, or actually really known anyone who has, Mary/Martin is still a frequent visitor to my thoughts.
on September 12, 2000
Tremain's book is a moving portrait of what it means to be unsure of yourself and the price you pay for being different. It works as a whole, in that the main and supporting characters are very fully-fleshed and we have the chance to really like and understand them. Some elements, such as the mentally ill mother, seemed familiar and almost drawn from other novels I've read, but even these characters maintained a fresh quality that kept me interested. My only complaint is the final 1/4 stretch in which the main character, Mary/Marty, seems to spend a lot of time feeling sorry for herself. I know such is human, but for me a whine is still a whine.. However, even this doesn't tarnish the lovely prose and the well-paced plot. Definitely a recommended read.
on March 15, 2000
when i heard that we had to read a book about a girl who wants to become a boy for english class, my first instinct was that the book would be bad, a simple stereotypical novel that would fail to convey more than that. in fact, it turned out to be quite the contrary. i should have had more faith in my teacher. anyway, this book is simply marvelous. the story is about so much more than just Mary/Martin; the quest for identity affects Tim and Walter as well. all the characters in this book are so real and each amazing in his or her own way. i know this is a poor review and does not do the novel justice, but i just wanted to add my 5 stars to the average. this book is not to be missed.
on May 28, 1999
This is the first book that I've felt compelled to review here. That there are only two other comments is almost a crime, since this is a book any real fan of fiction should read. The writing is beautiful, creating images that remain long after you've stopped reading; the characters are all at once completely unqiue and yet you recognize yourself and those you know in each and every one of them. As the other reviews have mentioned, don't feel put off if you've never had any "gender identity" problems--as in any great novel, the plot itself is merely the skeleton. At the end you realize the book in your hands is a shimmering, living thing.