The US State Department estimates that ten thousand children left Romania in the immediate aftermath of Ceausescu’s fall. One of these is JJ, who, in Mike McCormack’s second novel, is ‘bought’ for two thousand dollars, ‘give or take a few pounds, import duties and all the rest’, by Anthony O’Malley, a 43-year-old bachelor farmer from the West of Ireland who travels to Eastern Europe when his farm is quarantined because of BSE. The young JJ forms a deep fraternal bond with Owen, the son of Anthony’s neighbours, Frank and Maureen. JJ is a bright child, later to be hailed as a prodigy, but at the age of six he attempts suicide when a schoolfellow blurts out that he is adopted. Added to which, he is deeply troubled when he learns about Original Sin as he prepares for his First Communion.
After recovering from this trauma, he enjoys a normal, albeit precocious, adolescence. He has a girlfriend, Sarah, who worshipped him at school; but, as she herself acknowledges, only after she has survived a car crash – ‘something you respected’ – does he take any notice of her. Yet, through all