On Canaan's Side: A Novel

( 17 )

Overview

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a mesmerizing new novel from the award-winning author of The Secret Scripture

A first-person narrative of Lilly Bere’s life, On Canaan’s Side opens as the eighty-five-year-old Irish émigré mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. Lilly, the daughter of a Dublin policeman, revisits her eventful past, going back to the moment she was forced to flee Ireland at the end of the First World War. She continues her tale in America, where—far from her ...

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On Canaan's Side

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Overview

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a mesmerizing new novel from the award-winning author of The Secret Scripture

A first-person narrative of Lilly Bere’s life, On Canaan’s Side opens as the eighty-five-year-old Irish émigré mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. Lilly, the daughter of a Dublin policeman, revisits her eventful past, going back to the moment she was forced to flee Ireland at the end of the First World War. She continues her tale in America, where—far from her family—she first tastes the sweetness of love and the bitterness of betrayal.

Spanning nearly seven decades, Sebastian Barry’s extraordinary fifth novel explores memory, war, family ties, love, and loss, distilling the complexity and beauty of life into his haunting prose.

Winner of the 2012 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

Harty Irish America
“Sebastian Barry, one of Ireland’s most successful playwrights and novelists, is at his best when he is writing about those who find themselves marginalized in the new Ireland as it emerges from under the yoke of British. And in his new book, On Canaan’s Side, we once again find him dealing with characters whose lives are swept up in the changing tide of Ireland’s independence…As always with Barry, the language is beautiful. I had to slow myself down to savor the way he puts words together, for he is a master craftsman.”
Allen Barra
“Sebastian Barry’s achievement, enhanced by his latest novel, On Canaan’s Side, may be too great to be defined by the Booker or any other literary prize. Barry, the greatest prose writer in Irish letters—which by definition makes him the greatest writer of prose in the English language…No other novelist now writing can convey as Barry does the way in which unrighted wrongs continue to reverberate down through the ages, creating new versions of old tragedies for people with no knowledge of their origins…On Canaan’s Side fits seamlessly into Barry’s unique and expanding vision, seeking to restore with language that which has been taken away by time. Its real subject isn’t politics or even history but memory, a memory which reveals that ‘a measure of tragedy is stitched into everything if you follow the thread long through.’”
Laura DeMarco
“Lilly Bere is exceptional. She frees herself from one homeland and takes root in another. Her story is as American as it is Irish…elegiac…this Dubliner’s portrayal of our city feels organic. From the East Ohio Gas explosion to a run-in with racism at Luna Park, he weaves a rich, authentic backdrop. His prose is roundabout and tender…It’s a testament to the power of Barry’s quietly elegant prose that her immigrant story seems so tragic and so real.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Richly detailed, often cinematic…This is no self-indulgent apologia, and Irish writer Sebastian Barry makes the fine distinction between sentiment and sentimentality with a deft hand...With all the quiet interiority and the equanimity with which events are recalled here, it’s easy to overlook how exciting those events were. The “plot” is full of surprises – many shocking. War, single parenthood, betrayal, unexpected acts of compassion, death too early – or in at least one case, too late – and race relations are all threads in the tapestry of Lilly’s life. Accommodations must be made at every turn and Lilly makes them, all the while maintaining her own moral poise. Deservedly short-listed twice previously for the Man Booker Prize, Barry in his current offering maintains, and at times exceeds, the high level of finely wrought empathy attained in those award nominees…And as in those two novels, the play of history as it most intimately affects individual lives in such an infinite variety of ways is on exquisitely touching display.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Sebastian Barry is a significant Irish writer and his new novel, set mainly in the United States, is a wonderful introduction to his work…The plot is beautifully crafted. Lilly’s wanderings…make the story seem episodic, but Barry knows exactly what he’s doing; the latter part of the novel has several convincing surprises.”
Milkwaukee Journal-Sentinel
“Gorgeously written.”
New York Journal of Books
“[A] compact but leisurely told narrative rich in mood and depth… On Canaan’s Side’s climactic pages glow with wonder and terror. They reach a catharsis of prose poetry as they mingle dramatically.”
Booklist
“Tripping, liquid prose that adroitly evokes everything from the smell of an Irish countryside to the heaviness of grief.”
Library Journal
Lilly Bere's complex life spans 20th-century America: owing to IRA death threats, she flees Ireland with her fiancé, he's killed, she marries and survives the Depression, her husband disappears, she raises a son who's called up for Vietnam, then he disappears, leaving a young son behind. Summed up that way, this book sounds implausible, but the award-winning Barry (e.g., Costa Book of the Year) has the skill to make it work. With a six-city tour.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143122180
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 8/28/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 349,191
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, as was The Secret Scripture, which was also a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, winner of the Costa Book of the Year award and the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction, as well as the Irish Novel of the Year, and was selected as a Best Book of the Year by The Boston Globe and The Economist. His other novels include The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty and Annie Dunne. His plays have been produced in London, Dublin, Sydney and New York. Barry lives in Wicklow, Ireland, with his wife and three children.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 10, 2011

    well written

    an enjoyable read,well written, moves quickly

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    thin, but precious

    An old Irish woman's musings on her life, both in Ireland and then the U.S. = beautifully written.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    Superb writing.

    This is an enthralling story portraying an incredible life filled with hope, sadness, and joy. Some paragraphs are so breathtaking they require immediate rereading. It is my first Sebastian Barry book, but not my last. Wonderful.

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    Posted September 13, 2011

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