Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Sacred Country” as Want to Read:
Sacred Country
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Sacred Country

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  602 ratings  ·  66 reviews
Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Prix Femina Etranger.

At the age of six, Mary Ward, the child of a poor farming family in Suffolk, has a revelation: she isn’t Mary, she’s a boy. So begins Mary’s heroic struggle to change gender, while around her the others also strive to find a place of safety and fulfillment in a savage and confusing world.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published June 14th 2002 by Vintage Books (first published 1992)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Sacred Country, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Sacred Country

The J.A.P. Chronicles by Isabel RoseGenes, Cells and Brains by Hilary RoseEllen by Rose LevitThe Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose ClarkeThe Big Necessity by Rose George
Authors with Flower Names
30th out of 31 books — 2 voters
Factory Girls by Leslie T. ChangTales of the City by Armistead MaupinGreen City in the Sun by Barbara WoodSalvation City by Sigrid NunezCity of One by Francine Cournos
City vs. Country
61st out of 63 books — 1 voter


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,089)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Julie
Mary Ward stands shivering in a Suffolk, England field in February, 1952 and realizes she is meant to be a boy. She is just six years old. Within its opening pages Sacred Country promises to take you on a literary journey that will be long and painful. Rest assured, it will also be beautiful and transformative.

Although Mary and her quest for her physical identity are at the heart of Sacred Country, it is a book full of souls searching for emotional purchase. Mary's mother has a tenuous grip on
...more
Brian
Sacred Country has at its core, the story of Mary Ward who in 1952, at six years old, while standing in the middle of a field in Suffolk in a silence intended to mark the death of the king, realises that she is a boy trapped in a girl's body. The novel follows her struggle with the implications of this realisation, culminating thirty years later in hormone treatment and a double mastectomy.

The story is also filled with the voices of the people around Mary - her brother, father, mother, grandfat
...more
Bakkar
It's a real masterpiece. I was overwhelmed by Rose Tremain flawless smooth style of writing in this book. I not only touched but lived each of the characters as if I were the angel watching him. I may even knew things about the characters that the angels watching them may didn't know about them. Well, if you are a guy who is fond of thrillers like me and you wanna read something different as a change, I recommend this book. you will find it wrote on the cover that it's about Mary finding her sel ...more
Fiona
3.5

Rose Tremain is one of my favourite authors, although I haven’t read one of hers in a while. I tend to save them up for times when I just want a good book.

This was a good book, I enjoyed it so perhaps it says more about my reading mood that I didn’t enjoy it quite so much as I thought I would. Or maybe Tremain has just come to the end of her ability to shake my reading world. As time goes by, my reading preferences and desires and enjoyments change through experience.

Sacred Country is about a
...more
Laura
This is the second Tremain book I read, and her writing continues to astound me; it has a quiet magnificence to it. She also does a splendid job of weaving together stories which, in the hands of a less talented writer, could become unpleasantly entangled.
Laura
Loved this. Loved this. Loved this. While the storyline and circumstances described are a bit somber, this was ultimately a really inspiring read. You follow the life of a remarkable young girl who from the age of six knows that she is really meant to be a boy. The main story is interesting enough, but there is an inter-weaving of characters, each with their own remarkable character development and growth. The relationship between Mary and her grandfather is beautiful to read. And very simply, t ...more
Laura
Bleak, bleak, bleak. Only because I am a big fan of Rose Tremain's work did I force myself to finish this. Tremain's characters are exiles of one kind or another, sundered from their true home or true nature by external forces, struggling to find a way to spiritual integrity, to a metaphorical home they only vaguely intuit the existence of. In Sacred Country, the struggle is horrendous and unending. Too much, too bleak.
Brenna
hard to read, and depressing, but worthwhile. the main character has a revelation at the age of 6 that she is a boy and spends the rest of her life trying to make the outside match the inside. along with her story is that of another man in her town, who also feels that his life is meant to be different from the one he was given. it's a beautiful way to create empathy.
Ben
Not a plot driven book, Candace might like this...oh wait poor Rose is still alive. Wonderfully written, stick it out it's okay it all comes down the the last quarter; I read those pages in one sitting. Did not like how the characters are created into their sexuality; there was not enough of their nature in themselves.
Gem
Would give this 4.5 if I could. 'Sacred Country' is a wonderful read about gender identification in the 50s-70s, and sexuality. It doesn't go as deeply into the emotions that Martin feels as transgender as I would like, but there is definitely a real sense of anguish and despair throughout the novel.

The characters are all very well written, mostly hopeless and self absorbed in their small country farm village. Despite this, you do feel for them and want life to improve for them. There is the odd
...more
Sarah
I'm a huge fan of Rose Tremain's writing and her gift of storytelling, but I had overlooked this novel. So glad I discovered it, 20 years late. A young boy is trapped inside the body of a young girl during the era when changing one's gender was largely uncharted territory. Mary/Martin is not the only compelling character in this beautifully crafted story. Secondary and even tertiary characters come alive and linger long after this troubling, but supremely satisfying, book has ended. Highly recom ...more
Katherine
"I felt my heart jump about inside my aertex blouse. I felt thirsty and very peculiarly sad. I thought I might cry, which was a thing I never did, but sometimes you cry with your face and your mind isn't in it, but somewhere else, watching you. It was like that. It was my face that felt sad" (14).
“Cause so swift and foolish; effect so endless” (38).
“Mary was repelled. She despised Miss Vista. She wanted to hurl her green tennis ball at her face. She wanted a real wind to come and swoop her up in
...more
Huw Rhys
Vast parts of this book are like "The Mill on the Floss" on tranquilizers, it's so slow and ponderous.

These tedious bits are punctuated by stories of disease, depression, depravity and death. These are the main devices driving the plot.

Most of the characters struggle with their own self identities, and all go on journeys - metaphorically as well as physically. As you would surmise by now, few reach a better place - the luckier ones just about manage to stay still.

Maybe the whole conceit of the n
...more
Maria Longley
There are many secret lives going on in this book, some like Mary's we find out about quickly and others slowly reveal themselves. It felt quite unusual to read a book set in 1950 to 1980, lost novelistic decades of the English countryside... There was a lot of misery and sadness, but also some decent honest hope for Mary from people along the way too (which makes it bearable as a reader) even if there isn't a grand Hollywood happy ending as such.
Wendy Greenberg
Bowled over by this story...On the surface you would not imagine a Suffolk community 1952-1980 could comprise such characters and be "undressed" in such a poignant and understated way. Loved the characters and how they grew, the viewpoints and the unravelling/sweeping under the carpet of sanity, sexuality, family, hopes and dreams. Reminded me of Annabel by Kathleen Winter in its intensity and its way of addressing identity.
Clare
A fan of Rose Tremain, this book doesn't feature subject matter which can be described as "enjoyable." Rather, it is thought-provoking, disturbing at times, and downright depressing at others. Yet her characters are so interesting that any lack of plot has me care enough about them to keep on reading regardless. Not one of my favourites, but have recommended to my book group.
Fran devaney
Another astonishing read from Rose Tremain. Follows Mary Ward and her family commencing in post war Britain. Mary is six years old and during the family's observance of a two minute silent for the late King in a wet and cold Suffolk field Mary comes to the realisation that she is a boy. Story follows her long and often painful journey towards her goal to become Martin. The development tof the characters is fantastic. Mary’s mother struggles with her sanity, her father with his inability to make ...more
Sarah (TotalTeenFiction)
For a book I wouldn't have chosen myself, this turned out to be a really enjoyable read! The characters were well thought out and you were able to journey with them as the book went on, you really came to feel for them and care about what happened to them, particularly the main character. The descriptions of the scenery and locations were wonderful, and drew you right in to the book. One of the things I enjoyed most was the fact this book was set over a period of decades, and how it incorperated ...more
Rebecca
This was the first Rose Tremain book I have read, and I found it utterly absorbing.

Throughout the book we follow Mary, a young girl who early on in her life, has the realisation that she is, infact, a boy, and struggle to become Martin. However, is the also the story of a large group of interlinking characters trapped by their life and upbringing in rural Suffolk.

The book for me said something about the rite of passage of finding freedom, and living your life as you need to. Everyone is born wi
...more
Catherine
Read it years ago, loved it, recommended it to everyone but right now I can't recall enough about it to write a review, just read it, it's quirky and good.
Angela Young
What do you do when you know you've been born into the wrong body? How much courage does it take to make the changes - physical and psychological - necessary to become the person you know you are, really?

This is a multi-voiced novel (a favourite structure of mine) but first and foremost, it is Mary Martin Ward’s story: the story of a boy struggling to find his way in the world, and way out into the world, from within the prison of a girl’s body. So, obviously, it's an identity crisis dramatised
...more
Linda
Excellent, with that real-life way in which all things don't end happily ever after. Expertly crafted. MUST find out what else she's written.
Rufus
An excellent book that I read within two days, marred only by the abrupt ending and the insistence of using the name 'Mary' and the pronoun 'she' throughout.
Helen
This was unrelentingly sad! Nearly all the characters carry almost insurmountable burdens. Nevertheless the writing was beautiful.
Evelyn Shunaman
While I didn't dislike the book, I found it immediately difficult to remember, which is telling in and of itself.
Saz Gee
Oh just read it. I stumbled across it with little idea of the plot & I think you should too. Another tour de force.
Colin
This was well-written, but DAMN, it was depressing. Considering the original publication date, that's not surprising. Also, not much has changed, really, in terms of publishing and trans characters in YA lit. This book is an odd combination of unrealistic (there is no hatred directed toward the main character, from anyone in the book, for her decision, which considering the time period of the story is, well, questionable) and tragi-trans. But NO ONE in this book is happy, so...yeah. I wouldn't r ...more
Linda
A beautiful book of lives full of yearning, of trapped lives, dysfunctional relationships, nurturing relationships, finding out who you are or what you should be. The pain and awkwardness of the characters is dealt with very matter-of-fctly, without big emotions. But I would have liked a few big emotions, as relief from the struggles of life. I think this is why I'm rating it three and not four stars. The writing at times is exquisite - simple comparisons or a world said in a few short words - s ...more
Hugh
A poignant tale following a group of characters as they attempt to break free of the constraints and expectations of an English rural backwater, by turns poignant, funny and beautifully observed. The central story of Mary/Martin, a boy growing up in a girl's body, is particularly moving.
Sonja Trbojevic
Beginning in 1952, in rural East Anglia, and concluding in Nashville, Tennessee, 24 years later, this is primarily the story of Mary Ward, who, at the age of 6, realises she is not a girl. This belief informs the course of her life, as she seeks to remedy the mistake of her gender. The lives of Mary/Martin, and those around her, are explored by Tremain, as they all come to terms with their own recognition of the "self-within-the-self".
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 36 37 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender
  • Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica
  • The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard
  • Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey between Genders
  • Sexual Metamorphosis: An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs
  • Violet to Vita: The Letters of Violet Trefusis to Vita Sackville-West, 1910-1921
  • Becoming a Visible Man
  • Being Emily
  • Transposes
  • Girls, Visions and Everything: A Novel
  • Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton
  • Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue
  • Missed Her
  • Bumbling into Body Hair: A Transsexual's Memoir
  • Nevada
  • Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present
  • Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England
  • Second Son:  Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love and Life
4183
Rose Tremain's best-selling novels have won many awards, including the Orange Prize (The Road Home), the Whitbread Novel of the Year (Music & Silence), the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Prix Femina Etranger (Sacred Country). Restoration, the first of her novels to feature Robert Merivel, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989 and made into a film in 1995. She lives in Norfolk a ...more
More about Rose Tremain...
The Road Home The Colour Restoration Music & Silence Trespass

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“There is something about the unexpected that moves us. As if the whole of existance is paid for in some way, except for that one moment, witch is free.” 5 likes
“The world is packed with mistery. We tend to forget this, but itțs still packed tight with it, like water in stone.” 2 likes
More quotes…