A Far Piece to Canaan: A Novel of Friendship and Redemption [NOOK Book]

Overview

Celebrated retired professor Samuel Zelinsky reluctantly leaves New Hampshire after his wife's death to visit a farm in the Kentucky hills where he lived as a child. The son of sharecroppers, Samuel has long since left that life behind?yet now he must reconnect with long-buried memories to fulfill a childhood promise to a friend.

In 1945, Sam and his best friend, Fred Mulligan, visit the Blue Hole, a legendary pool on the Kentucky River where the hill people believe an evil ...

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A Far Piece to Canaan: A Novel of Friendship and Redemption

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Overview

Celebrated retired professor Samuel Zelinsky reluctantly leaves New Hampshire after his wife's death to visit a farm in the Kentucky hills where he lived as a child. The son of sharecroppers, Samuel has long since left that life behind—yet now he must reconnect with long-buried memories to fulfill a childhood promise to a friend.

In 1945, Sam and his best friend, Fred Mulligan, visit the Blue Hole, a legendary pool on the Kentucky River where the hill people believe an evil force lurks. Along with a couple of neighbor boys, they discover the body of a dog, surrounded by twisted human footprints—and a cave that offers further evidence that something terrible has transpired. Fearing they'll be punished for their trespasses, the boys initiate a series of cover-ups and lies that eventually leads to a community disaster.

When the Zelinskys move, Fred and Samuel promise each other that if either calls, the other will come to his aid. But Samuel's failure to keep his promise has lasting consequences he could never have predicted. Now, decades later, he confronts his failures and attempts to redeem himself, finally achieving peace through his late return to Canaan land.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Country roads lead a grieving grandfather a long way home in this emotional rural gothic by, of all people, one of Twitter's most popular celebrities. Debut author Halpern, a retired professor of nuclear medicine, is best known as the humorous crank who inspired son Justin's infamous twitter feed "Shit My Dad Says," a book of the same name and a short-lived CBS sitcom. Halpern's first novel is an affectionate, sometimes frightening and eerily effective drama about coming of age in bluegrass country. Halpern's protagonist is Samuel Zelinsky, a retired Jewish professor who is in mourning after the death of his wife. At her request, Samuel returns home to face the ghosts of his past. Most of the book is a flashback to Samuel's childhood with best friend Fred Mulligan and assorted other denizens of this backwoods village. In a long, sometimes elegant story that includes murderous hillbillies, mysterious pools, broken promises and terrible trespasses, Halpern captures life in the postwar South. Sam gains a protector in Ben Begley, a local who saves him from his own stupidity. The elder Samuel often reflects on how these events changed him. "There was something special in Ben and Dad's way of preparing me to be a man," he says. "I developed a sense of self that prevailed throughout my life. In some of my darkest moments, their views, taught so long ago, allowed me to persevere, to think my own thoughts and stick to them until I was proven wrong." The novel captures a unique time, as characters speak in perplexing native vernacular, children carry shotguns, and sins can be washed away by mumbling, "Just foolin'." A superfluous coda in which Samuel reconnects with an old friend is poignant nonetheless. Shades of Homer Hickham and Pat Conroy appear in this surprising debut from a dad who inspired a Twitter frenzy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062233189
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 148,699
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Sam Halpern is the legendary father of Justin Halpern, author of the phenomenal #1 New York Times bestseller Sh*t My Dad Says. A professor of nuclear medicine, he lives in southern California.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 31, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Samuel, now a retired professor and widower, returns to the home

    Samuel, now a retired professor and widower, returns to the home of his youth in search of redemption and the best friend he's ever had. Raised the son of a sharecropper in Kentucky, this story follows Samuel's time in Harper's Corner, Kentucky. As a young boy, Samuel finds himself entrenched in a dangerous mystery that threatens the entire village, while he and his friends wonder whether they may be able to stop it. As a man, Samuel must come to terms with having abandoned his best friend, and with whether or not he could have made a difference.

    I found this book to be a surprisingly sentimental read. Considering the author is also the originator of such hysterically crass and brutally honest statements as those shared by his son via Sh*t My Dad Says, I am amazed at how sweet and touching this story was, especially when being written by a self-described curmudgeon.

    The author created a cast of very likable characters. The main character, Samuel Zelinsky, is a sweet boy-- conscientious, respectful and thoughtful. His best friend Fred is likewise a good boy, but shoulders the weight of the world and often has a difficult time managing his depression. But he's a very brave and spirited boy. Likewise I became very fond of their friend Lonnie, who comes from an abusive home and therefore has become tough as nails on the surface (although underneath it all, he is just as sweet as Samuel and Fred).

    The speech pattern used among the boys can be difficult to adjust to. The characters speak in the dialect of the Kentucky hills, saying things like "wudn't" (wasn't), "hit's" (it is), and "bob warr'll cut ye" (barbed wire will cut you).

    I have discovered over the last year that I am quite fond of southern literature. There is a richness and depth to the characters that is captivating, and having grown up in the south, a certain familiarity. This book did not disappoint!

    My final word: This story continually reminded me of Stephen King's "Stand By Me". The friendships that exist amongst a group of boys, the setting, the sense of innocence lost. I love "Stand By Me", so I mean the comparison in the best way possible. Samuel, Fred and Lonnie all became characters that I truly cared about. The storyline kept me guessing, there were lots of other colorful characters on the periphery, and ultimately the story was just plain charming.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 18, 2013

    This is a wonderfully enjoyable read. The author brings together

    This is a wonderfully enjoyable read. The author brings together his early years in Kentucky with his later years as a retiree in a way that will have you laughing and crying. It was difficult to put the book down until I came to a very heartwarming conclusion. Ben Halpern has a wonderful knack for making the reader feel like he's right there throughout the entire story. I look forward to his next novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    We meet twelve-year-old Sam Zelinsky, who along with his family-

    We meet twelve-year-old Sam Zelinsky, who along with his family- Dad, Mom, and three older siblings- are sharecropping on a farm in Kentucky. Sharecropping is an incredibly tough life, and Halpern's writing really opened up my eyes to a world I did not know well. Not only are the sharecroppers dependent on the weather, like most farmers, they are also subject to the owners of the farms and their sometimes changing whims. The Zelinskys hope to make enough money to buy their own farm in Indiana.
    Sam's best friend is Fred, whose family is struggling even more so than Sam's family. Fred's father saves every penny he makes to put toward buying mules and equipment, even if it means his family goes without food or decent clothing.
    I enjoyed watching Sam and Fred's friendship develop. I live with my husband and two sons, and so that world of maleness fascinates me. Much like Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, it gave me great insight into how boys relate to each other.
    The book moves back and forth between now and the years on the farm in Kentucky. Sam's beloved wife Nora told him before she died that he needed to go back to Kentucky to look for his friend Fred whom he hasn't seen in 60 years, even though Fred had tried to get in touch a few times over the years.
    There is some action in the book as someone is savagely butchering livestock. Sam, Fred and two of their friends stumble upon where this crazed man is hiding, but they don't tell anyone because they fear that two of the boys' fathers will beat them for going somewhere they have been forbidden to go.
    The boys decide to protect each other rather than tell the truth about what they know. Anyone who has dealt with young people has probably run across this. The young mind isn't mature enough to make a reasoned decision. It is more important to be loyal to a friend.
    When the crazy man burns down a home and tries to kill Sam, they boys are forced to tell what they know. The scenes with the sheriff and the boys and their fathers as they first try to get the boys to tell the truth and then go after the man are crackling with tension.
    The last few chapters tell Sam's story as he goes back to Kentucky to track down his friend Fred. His journey is moving as he tries to redeem himself. He moved away and left everything and everyone behind, and now he has regrets about not staying in touch.
    Reading this did make me think about the journey we are on as we travel through life. We make friends at different stages, and this book will encourage you to be grateful for everyone you have loved, and to remember that they played a part in making you who you are.
    My favorite line in the book is this one from the adult Sam:"Being human is difficult", I said aloud. "Common decency is the greatest quality to which one can aspire and the hardest to practice."
    Reading Justin's books, I always knew that his dad Sam had a big heart and I am glad to see that he gets to express his voice in this beautiful novel, which I suspect has much in common with Sam's own young years (and not just that he and his protagonist share a name).
    The only criticism I have is that some of the descriptions of the Kentucky landscape went on a bit too long for me.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2014

    Growing up

    I really did enjoyed this book,it is something that makes you think about friends and life and understanding of people and of your self. I hope you'll read and enjoy as I did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2014

    Honest and real, wonderful story of friendship.

    Great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2013

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