On Canaan's Side

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Overview

From the two-time Man Booker shortlisted author of The Secret Scripture comes a magnificent new novel that is the story of the twentieth century in America.

Told in the first person, as a narrative of Lilly Bere's life over seventeen days, On Canaan's Side opens as she mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. Lilly revisits her past, going back to the moment she was forced to flee Ireland, at the end of the First World War, and continues her tale in America, a world filled with ...

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On Canaan's Side

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Overview

From the two-time Man Booker shortlisted author of The Secret Scripture comes a magnificent new novel that is the story of the twentieth century in America.

Told in the first person, as a narrative of Lilly Bere's life over seventeen days, On Canaan's Side opens as she mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. Lilly revisits her past, going back to the moment she was forced to flee Ireland, at the end of the First World War, and continues her tale in America, a world filled with both hope and danger. At once epic and intimate, Lilly's story unfolds as she tries to make sense of the sorrows and troubles of her life and of the people whose lives she has touched. Spanning nearly seven decades, from the Great Depression to World War II and the Vietnam War, it is the heartbreaking story of a woman whose capability to love is enormous, and whose compassion, even for those who have wronged her, is astonishing.

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Editorial Reviews

Peter Behrens
…Barry is a supple narrator and a virtuoso stylist. Lilly Bere—exile, housemaid, wife, mother, cook, survivor—tells her story in a radiant Irish voice…Narrating a story of hatred and vengefulness in the voice of a woman resolute in compassion, Barry applies a breadth of vision often absent when nationalists and revolutionaries of any nationality consider the "other," especially if that "other" happens to be a loyalist of the ancien regime.
—The Washington Post
Rachel Nolan
Other writers of Barry's generation, like Colm Toibin and Colum McCann, have described that distinctive Irish tradition of leaving Ireland. But Barry's immigrant novel feels more old-fashioned, more sepia-toned with its high seriousness, its frank antiwar message, and its sense that a story properly begins with childhood, contains all the events of life and ends with death. The beauty of this novel is that for all its murders and scents of Irish heather, it is not overwritten.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Lilly Bere is an 89-year-old retired cook living in the Hamptons in Long Island in Irish writer Barry's latest novel (after The Secret Scripture). Lilly is mourning her grandson, a veteran of the first Gulf War, who has just committed suicide. But this is hardly the first loss she's had in a life spanning continents and many other wars. Born and raised in Ireland, Lilly's first encounter with loss comes when her brother Willie is killed in WWI. A fellow soldier, Tadg Bere, comes to pay his respects to the family and woos her in earnest soon after. The young couple has no time to marry, as Tadg, enrolled in the Black and Tans, an auxiliary police force, is implicated in an ambush of IRA militia men and a price is put on both their heads. They flee to America under assumed names, hoping to start a new life there in safety with the help of some extended family in Chicago, but the past catches up with them. Over the subsequent decades, Lilly is tossed around her adopted country, grappling with the distance from her homeland. She's fascinated by the expansiveness and vigor of America despite her unceasing heartache over the generations of men and their war service. Barry's skills are evident as he tenderly unspools Lilly's story, with a fine eye for intimate moments, but the final impression of her life against its historical backdrop is clouded by the familiarity of many of the novel's elements and the schematic way each additional emotional blow falls relentlessly, tugging at the reader's heartstrings with diminishing force. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781410443465
  • Publisher: Gale Cengage Learning
  • Publication date: 12/16/2011
  • Series: Young Samurai , #1
  • Edition description: Large Print Edition
  • Pages: 471
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His plays include Boss Grady's Boys (1988), The Steward of Christendom (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998), The Pride of Parnell Street (2007), and Dallas Sweetman (2008). Among his novels are The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998), Annie Dunne (2002) and A Long Long Way (2005), the latter shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. His poetry includes The Water-Colourist (1982), Fanny Hawke Goes to the Mainland Forever (1989) and The Pinkening Boy (2005). His awards include the Irish-America Fund Literary Award, The Christopher Ewart-Biggs Prize, the London Critics Circle Award, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, and Costa Awards for Best Novel and Book of the Year. He lives in Wicklow with his wife Ali, and three children, Merlin, Coral, and Tobias.

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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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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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