One of the most remarkable experiences enjoyed during the thirty odd years I worked with mother behind the counter - a rare, not to say, unique privilege - was watching her Book Antennae at work. She has an instinctive ability to recognise the true quality of a book without ever reading it.
Once, she was looking for a book to bring home, as she had nothing to read that night - it happens - and her eye fell on Seamus Murphy's "Stone Mad". As she took it, it slowly dawned on me that this was the first time she actually read the book she had so earnestly recommended to countless customers over the previous twenty-five years.
About fifteen or so years ago, she became wildly excited about a new book that had nothing to do with Ireland, an unusual phenomenon. Despite our initial indifference, there was no escape, it was compulsory reading for us all and, being the dutiful children we are, we all obeyed. Once again her Book Antennae was deadly accurate, so much so in fact that all our own children came under the same parental pressure that we had endured. The book was Jung Chang's "Wild Swans".
This extraordinary book tells the story of three generations of Chinese women, Jung Chang, her mother and her grandmother, and mirrors the tumultuous history of Twentieth Century China, particularly the suffering visited upon the women who suffered it. It is a remarkable tour de force and an incredibly informative read.
Some months later. Jung Chang and her mother, who had suffered extreme physical and mental deprivations under the Maoist regime, although she herself was a Red (at one stage she was made to kneel on broken glass in public and humiliate herself admitting to fictitious crimes against the state), visited the shop for a Book Signing.
My abiding memory of that visit was the immediate empathy between Jung Chang's mother and mine. Although neither understood a word of what the other was saying, they had a long and meaningful conversation together. You would have been forgiven for taking them as life long friends. Their mutual understanding was as deep as it was genuine.
This memory was vividly rekindled recently with the publication of Jung Chang's second book - co-authored with her Irish born husband, Jon Halliday - "Mao The Unknown Story". Some books have an almost compulsive attraction about them; this is one of them. However, the initial enthusiasm is somewhat dampened by the first couple of chapters.
While the publisher's blurb claims that the book is the result of a decade of research and countless interviews, you could be excused for thinking that it is nothing more than a vicious and vindictive attack on the Chinese leader. Such sentences at the beginning as "Absolute selfishness and irresponsibility lay at the heart of Mao's outlook" and "Mao did not believe in anything unless he could benefit from it personally" strengthen this feeling. The personal tone of the narrative threatens the book's credibility.
However, as the book develops and the callousness of Mao Tse Tung towards his fellow human beings becomes increasingly evident, the sense of vindictiveness takes a back seat and the sheer evil embodied by one of the most powerful men in the world's twentieth-century history asserts itself. Mao's political manoeuvring is so devious that is sometimes difficult to believe it was allowed to happen and his total disregard for the value of other peoples' lives, including his peers, makes Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin look like naughty schoolboys. The sheer breadth of his atrocities, his utter callousness is breathtaking.
Nothing, however, puts this book into more focus for me than the smiling happy face of one of his erstwhile victims as she chatted happily away with mother and, by her very presence, at the signing demonstrated a deep maternal pride at her daughter's achievement, although some of the passages of the book "Wild Swans" must have been extremely painful for her.
If ever there was to be the triumph of good over evil, this surely was a shinning example, and the best reason in the world why everyone should read "Mao The Unknown Story".