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Others, like the narrator of “On Canaan's Side,” Sebastian Barry's new novel, Her family was on the wrong side of history, Lilly records, and.
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Consumed with grief, carrying "in my skull a sort of molten sphere instead of a brain", she is compelled to make her account despite a hatred of "pens and paper and all that fussiness" and a mistrust of "the heavy-hearted tales of history". That her life has been shaped to a painfully minute degree by those heavy-hearted tales becomes evident; but so too does her natural unwillingness to submit to their flattening narratives, so much so that when she has finished her account, she is resolved to bring an end to her days by "some quiet method".

Quietness has been her preferred mode, a choice foisted upon her by a fugitive life. The daughter of a high-ranking policeman in the Dublin Metropolitan Police her father's story forms the basis of The Steward of Christendom , she already embodies a deeply ambivalent and problematic strand of Irish history, animating the divisions that rapidly worsened between the first world war and the formation, in , of the Irish Free State.

When, as a teenager, she meets Tadg Bere, returned from the war and now an auxiliary police officer in the reviled Black and Tans, they quickly fall foul of the politicised lawlessness spreading through Ireland; and when, following an ambush in which a group of rebels are killed, their names appear on a death-list, they flee Dublin by night and head for America. But their assumed names and furtive progress from New York to the "glittering Canaan" of Chicago is of little avail: Barry resists filling in complex historical detail with a heavy hand, although he is more heavy-hearted than might meet with Lilly's approval.

His method is to imply a dreadful strangeness rather than a straightforward working-out; conflict and tumult blind-side his characters rather than staring them full in the face. Nothing," reports Lilly's friend Mike Scopello tersely, when asked about the Purple Heart he received in the second world war; elsewhere, America's brimming racial tensions and its participation in the Vietnam war are similarly obliquely sketched, their force and magnitude evident from the damage and alienation that they leave in their wake.

Feb 18, Adrian White rated it it was amazing. When I first tried reading Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way, I had something of an adverse reaction and put it down; or rather, I threw it down, shouting why the fuck couldn't he just write one simple sentence without all that flowery, roundabout, get-there-in-the-end fluff and nonsense?

In other words, there was something of a culture clash as this English boy found the Irish boy's use of language to be quite an alien thing. It wasn't until I heard Sebastian Barry read from the book that I got When I first tried reading Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way, I had something of an adverse reaction and put it down; or rather, I threw it down, shouting why the fuck couldn't he just write one simple sentence without all that flowery, roundabout, get-there-in-the-end fluff and nonsense? It wasn't until I heard Sebastian Barry read from the book that I got it, that I had an aaahh moment and realised that, although the words were English, this was a different language, an alien language to me and it was there to be embraced in the same way as, for example, Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

Now, you might well think that was a bit slow of me and you'd probably be right; I might never have got it if Sebastian wasn't such an accomplished, charming and theatrical reader of his work. I loved the book but there were many mysteries to me that weren't revealed until I read it a second time, having left England to live in Ireland. Moran in Amongst Women is a type of man that just doesn't exist in England; hell - the Irish would tell you we can't even pronounce the name correctly. If Moran was exiled to England he'd no longer be the man he was in Ireland.

In his latest book, On Canaan's Side, there are many sentences that stop me dead in admiration: How - yes - poetic? And yet, still, how alien? Simple language used in a way I'd never dream of. And the measured pace of the storytelling: But what a life and what a story to tell: I didn't mind Brooklyn but it didn't exactly blow me away me either. I thought as I read and loved Joseph O'Connor's Ghost Light that he was maybe trying to 'do a Sebastian Barry' with the language he used - or rather, with the way he used the language - and that this was no bad thing.

The story was on a modest, less epic and more intimate scale than, for example, The Star of the Sea, but there was no harm in that and I've a feeling Joseph O'Connor was setting himself a writerly challenge that he passed with apparent ease but which must have taken a lot of very, very hard work.

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These Irish boys - they know how to evoke and to suggest, how to transport their reader to a different land in the way that music takes us to different places in our minds, be it with the words of a ballad or a tune or a melody. And I wish I could do it too. I love to cook. I have a binder where I carry recipes and notes.

I lug it from its shelf. A history of sorts and an old friend who soothes. I may have to add this advice, spoken to the main character in this wonderful book: It is like my grandma singing a lullaby, not too loud so you keep sleep away, not too soft and baby can't hear the words. Try and hear the heat, Lilly. Hear the pot thinking. You hear it, you hear it? And when yo I love to cook.

And when you do, you'll be able to do any sauce in the world. This book visits once again the Dunne family which Barry has mined in his previous works. So, he necessarily demands comparison.

Book review: ‘On Canaan’s Side,’ by Sebastian Barry - The Washington Post

This, and A Secret Scripture , utilized coincidence and contrivance a bit too much in the plot. For me, anyhow, the sauce was a bit too thick. Here, we get a meditation of the soldier, returning from war. It's a worthwhile reflection, because we should all think of returning soldiers. I can't remember the tune. View all 5 comments. Dec 14, Sheri rated it it was ok. I guess I'm alone in not liking this book. First, what everyone seems to think of a "lyrical" language is, to me, run on sentences that lose the point as they ramble. More times than once I had to stop and think "what on earth is the author getting at here?

Second, the strange, rambling plot contrivances that seemed to appear and disappear without resolution I love books that tell a good story, and I suspect there is a good story hidden in this one I just couldn't find it for the waxing poetic.

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Nov 24, A. Mary rated it it was ok Shelves: I think this book wants to be an epic, but it never makes it. There are many wars, races, nations, events, but it just never comes together as a grand story. The major shortcoming is Lilly, the protagonist and narrator.


Barry did a much stronger job of creating an aged Irish woman when he wrote Roseanne in The Secret Scripture. There are problems of voice with Lilly. Rarely does she speak as an Irish person, even though she was nearly twenty when she emigrated. The occasional little phrase is dr I think this book wants to be an epic, but it never makes it. The occasional little phrase is dropped as an afterthought. She waxes ecstatic about America, and American evenings, and everything else, beyond all reason, beyond all immigrants.

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry – review

There is little of the longing for home that is part of the emigrant experience. What makes it so problematic is that Lilly is rhapsodizing about a place where terrible things happen to her, repeatedly.

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  • At times, I began to wonder if Barry had written a giant satire. Lilly is almost entirely acted upon. She makes no decisions. She gets sent out of Ireland. She gets put in a car and taken to Washington. She sat quietly in the cafe and listened to Joe's story, and I wanted her to go blow his cover. She tended to the dying man when I wanted her to kill him, or at least to walk away. She has a late vision of a dancing bear, and that is what Lilly is--a toothless, dancing bear, in foreign surroundings with a ring in her nose.

    This is book three of the Dunne family, and it's an interesting concept, indeed. They are overlapping, individual stories. It is a very beautiful book, especially appropriate November reading. Annie Dunne and On Canaan's Side are missing something. Barry writes a female protagonist at least as often as a male, but of the five novels I have read, Willie Dunne and Eneas McNulty are surer.

    I've found another author of whom I want to read more. I see now that this is part of a series, but I think it is a series by GR standards, in that some of the people in the 4 novels appear in the other novels. At least I hope that is the case, because this is the 4th in the series and I'm hoping that they are all stand alone novels. This is a journal of sorts, so a first person narrative. It is one undertaken only upon the death of year old Lilly Bere's grandson. In the first pages we know th I've found another author of whom I want to read more.

    In the first pages we know this is to be the memory of her life, but that she intends to take her own life when she has finished writing it down. We may be immune to typhoid, tetanus, chicken-pox, diphtheria, but never memory. There is no inoculation against that. She has sad memories. I want to say the prose is good, but it probably just fits Lilly's characterization. Frankly, I never thought much about the prose, which I always do, so it must be that it is neither too simplistic nor too complex. There is really only the one good characterization of Lilly, and that, of course what she lets us see of herself.

    But, as she didn't live a life without others, of course we do have glimpses into other lives and characterizations. I want to give this 5-stars, but I'm not going to. In my earlier years being a GR member, I probably would have.

    I did not know then how much good literature the GR community would reveal to me. This is quite good, but somehow it is missing that last bit. And so it sits with a few others at the very tip top of the 4-star group. Sometimes I read a book in e-book format and I really wish I had read it in paperback just so I can look at it on my bookshelf from time to time and and remember how much I enjoyed it. This is one of those books. I enjoy Sebastian Barry's books so much. He is such a great storyteller.

    Barry, however, has been around for quite some time. The Secret Scripture , the book that immediately preceded this one, revolved around Roseanne McNulty Clear as she neared her one hundredth birthday. The feeling of it is like a landscape engulfed in floodwater in the pitch darkness, and everything, hearth and byre, animal and human, terrified and threatened. It is as if someone, some great agency, some CIA of the heavens, knew well the little mechanism that I am, and how it is wrapped and fixed, and has the booklet or manual to undo me, and cog by cog and wire by wire is doing so, with no intention ever to put me back together again The structure of the book is a simple one.

    As Lilly and her story move from Chicago to Cleveland to Long Island, Barry makes it clear that Lilly — that none of us, really — can flee from the consequences and repercussions of our history.

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    • On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry.
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    • Having lost almost every man she ever cared about to war, Lilly becomes a symbol of the devastating effects of war on those who are left behind. Barry is far to empathetic for that. Greece, America, Arabia, Ireland. Nowhere on earth is not a home place. The calf returns to where it got the milk. Nowhere is a foreign place. It is home for someone, and therefore us all. His lyrical prose is filled with hypnotic rhythms, perfect details, and vivid images. He knows exactly what to write to evoke the emotional reaction in the reader he wants: But there was something tugging, tugging at me now, Lilly says at one point, some intimation, like a drop of lemon in a jug of milk, to sour it for the soda bread.

      Barry, himself, has defended his intense poeticism: If you listen carefully for how people are talking to you in Ireland, in certain districts, it is quite elaborate, there is a strangeness to it. It might not be much more than silence, and certainly a small slight sound. This is Lilly as she begins to describe her small house in Cleveland, Ohio, where she lived in the s: Our little house had a view of the lake, just. You had to crane your neck, and all you saw were factories and jetties, but it was there, the water.

      The lake had its own aroma, from a hundred ingredients, mixed by the god of that lake. There was great soothing in that smell. I am writing it, I am writing it, and I spill it all out on my lap like very money, like riches, beyond the dreams of avarice. At one point, Lilly says her heart And, when describing the whole of her life, she writes: Sometimes, there are even brief glimmers of happiness. I heard Sebastian Barry, himself, read this section, and the power of his words is nothing short of tremendous, making it impossible for a reader with a heart to come away from this book dry-eyed.

      In fact, Barry eschews sentimentality. I felt the book was enhanced by its inclusion. Most wrongs are never righted. This book affected me like no other ever has. If you love literature, and if you love what literature can do, you need to read this book. Barry does not, in any of his books, sacrifice plot for poetry. View all 3 comments.

      Book review: ‘On Canaan’s Side,’ by Sebastian Barry

      Als die Republik dann ausgerufen wird, werden ihre Namen auf Todeslisten gesetzt und auch ihre Familien damit unendlichem Leid ausgesetzt. Die USA oder Irland? Dabei manchmal auch an der Grenze des Kitsches, sehr leicht zu lesen manchmal zu leicht? Ich habe die Erscheinungsdaten nicht recherchiert, aber manches schien mir recht stark an anderen Romanen orientiert, z.

      I really wanted to love this book, with its naive yet poetic, rhythmic voice, but I could not. Instead, doubts clawed at me what a spry crew of seniors up through nonagenerians we have in Lilly Bere, Mr. Are there too many coincidence I really wanted to love this book, with its naive yet poetic, rhythmic voice, but I could not. Are there too many coincidences -- people running into each other as if all of the Eastern half of the United States were an Irish village -- or is that the precise point of the book? I think these doubts find a place because, despite the sweeping scope a century of war, immigration, race relations , there is less narrative impulse and characterization than there is poetry.

      Lilly herself is an enigma, pretty, good -- too good -- she does not have a wicked or ungenerous impulse in the entire book, which makes her trying at the least and ahistorical at the most an Irish girl in s Cleveland without even a qualm of prejudice, a devoted servant to the great for 60 years without an inkling of class envy or resentment , and long suffering. She is done to, not doing, for nearly a century -- from when her brother's friend asks her out and then gets her blacklisted, and her father sends her away to a foreign land, until the very end, when for the first time in 89 years, we sense agency.

      This lack of center, as well as the fairy tale Bridgehampton of benign elderly that surround Lilly in her later years, gives the book -- despite its many tragedies -- a dulled. At one point, the sea viewed from the distance is described as being like a thousand patients waiting nervously in a doctor's surgery -- an odd, incongruent simile, especially in good old Lilly's mouth, but typical of the book, which tends to use many words sometimes for the sheer sake of using them without regard to what Lilly's 90 year old voice might actually sound like.

      And yet, I give it 3 stars for virtuoso moments, and for the germ of a bold original story in the tale of Lilly, Cassie Blake, Cleveland in the 30s, Joe Kinderman and Mike Scopello, and the relationships between them all. Those episodes have a heft and a freshness lost in the rest the theme that WWI and Vietnam drove people mad and wasted young lives is a considerably less fresh topic, and extending that chorus of wanton destruction of youth to the first Iraq war is perhaps a bit of stretch -- but it would have defied sense to make Lilly live on past to see the second Iraq war, which one sensed was Barry's true subject, so Kuwait had to stand in.

      But the racial and ethnic story of the Cleveland years is new, and actually, for the only time all book, those sections deliver some real tension and punch. Too bad they are only an episode in a book that seems longer than it is. Very slow paced though and a lot of back and forth between her early childhood in Ireland and her present life. Don't think I was in the mood for a slow paced book and think this affected my rating. I had a lot I wanted to say about this book, as I had just finished it, but then I got into a long, work-related conversation with a colleague, and now I find my brain mostly empty of thoughts where this book is concerned.

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      That, perhaps, is a good indicator of how deeply affected I was by it. Mostly how I felt, by the end, was as though I was covered in a heavy smothering blanket of depression. My books could be said to be autobiographical in that I often give my characters things from my own experiences, making them their experiences, if for no other reason than that this is often the only thing I have to give them. Were you ever intimidated by the scope of what you set out to narrate in this novel? What sparked you to engage with so many important moments in the twentieth century?

      Writing a book is always, well, not quite intimidating, perhaps overwhelming is the word. The big wave of the unwritten book stands over you as if poised to fall. You have to find a way to surf that wave but at the same time to describe it in all its mathematical complexity—on the wing, as it were. Oddly enough, the pins of history in the novel, such as the Dust Bowl, helped me greatly, rather than hindered, because the other challenge in writing a book set over a lifetime is knowing not only where the character is, but also where you are in the making of the landscape.

      Nothing exists till you write it down! I hitched around the United States when I was seventeen, and in every little town were those young men at street corners, veterans of a war, and yet little older than myself. I have never forgotten them. I would say that anything mentioned in the book, the American things, are the things I have thought about for a long, long time—heart things. It was a sort of unexpected if secret pleasure to be, temporarily, unofficially and no doubt dubiously, an American writer for a while, in that sense.

      Do you view novels in a similar way? How, if at all, does visual art inspire your writing? The scene that happens there in the novel was, for me anyway, a crucial one. And because Tadg thinks he looks like the painting, he is stilled by it, and his attention is claimed by it. A novel is a whole world, and it is invented very like a painter invents a picture, or series of pictures.

      If you learn to paint, as I did myself as a young man under the guidance of my painter grandfather, you have to understand that what you mark on the paper will only make visual sense when the viewer is standing some six or ten feet from the painting. This is quite useful for writing, or rather rewriting. Many details may be interesting in themselves, but have to be taken away, because in the end they muddle or distort the actual picture itself. Why do you think it is that Irish Americans, in general, feel such strong ties to their homeland?

      Why do Irish people feel such a bond with Ireland? Why do Americans feel their bond with America? But yes, then there is the bond that immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, feel for the country they left behind. The bond between an Irish American and Ireland is I think a very complicated, sometimes mysterious, thing. It may depend on when their ancestors left, maybe during the famine, or during the period after independence in the s—half a million left Ireland during the fifties and sixties, for instance.

      Considering the traumas involved, considering the actual country they left, it is really remarkable, and in the final analysis admirable, that this love of Ireland dominates the Irish American memory. After Martin Luther King, Jr. As a young person in Ireland, how did the cause of Dr. King and the news of his death affect you? It is a truism that everyone remembers when John F. I was a little boy in London, where my father had sought work. I came home from school and my sister was weeping.