On Canaan's Side: A Novel by Sebastian BarryOn Canaan's Side: A Novel by Sebastian Barry

On Canaan's Side: A Novel

bySebastian Barry

Hardcover | July 23, 2013

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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.
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 shor...
Title:On Canaan's Side: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 8.6 × 5.8 × 1 inPublished:July 23, 2013Publisher:Viking USALanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0670022926

ISBN - 13:9780670022922

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this book! This was my first encounter with Sebastian Barry but it will not be my last. Every sentence of his prose is to be savoured. His language is fresh and so very Irish. Here is a example from early in the text of the charm of his style, the moment we first meet Tadg Bere. "He looked like he had swum the Channel and the salt had scoured him out, his face was that clean. Which was an achievement, considering he had sat in trenches for years." In these few words, we are enthralled by both the character being described and the narrator herself. That is another plus in the novel. Lilly, who at 89 is telling her story, is a completely believable, wonderfully honest voice of the 20th century, beginning her tale before World War I and ending just after the Gulf War of the early 90s. This is a fitting structure to a novel that is, foremost, an indictment of war. The folly of the many conflicts that constituted the 20th Century is exposed through the impact these events had on Lilly's life and on those around her. Barry brilliantly describes the turbulent sixties this way. "But it was that decade of assassinations, and Ed was young in it. Like a good youngster, he took it all to heart, he took it all personally. No one was shot without Ed feeling the bullet go through his own self. Medgar Evers was the first one, and then all that rosary of death after, with every bead a soul." To some of the members of my book club, parts of the plot of this novel were too far-fetched to be believed, but I did not notice what others found lacking. I suppose I was carried away by the characters and the language. My only quibble was the ending, which I am still considering. I suppose that makes it a good one, after all, since I finished the book two weeks ago, and I am still reflecting on it.
Date published: 2013-10-04

Editorial Reviews

“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.’” — Allen Barra, The Daily Beast "Must Reads"“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.” — The Philadelphia Inquirer“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.” — Laura DeMarco, The Cleveland Plain Dealer“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.” — Minneapolis Star-Tribune“Gorgeously written.” — Milkwaukee Journal-Sentinel“[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.” — New York Journal of Books“Tripping, liquid prose that adroitly evokes everything from the smell of an Irish countryside to the heaviness of grief.” — Booklist“Barry’s skills are evident as he tenderly unspools Lilly’s story, with a fine eye for intimate moments.” — Publishers Weekly“A masterful novel filled with the bittersweet ruminations…It also sustains a page-turning momentum, leaving the reader in suspense until the very end whether this novel is an extended suicide note, a confession or an affirmation of life's blessings and embrace of its contradictions, as those various strains show the possibility of becoming one… Lilly reveals herself to be a woman of uncommon sense and boundless compassion…A novel to be savored.” — Kirkus Reviews“On Canaan's Side is written with vast sympathy and tenderness. Sebastian Barry's handling of voice and cadence is masterly. His fictional universe is filled with life, quiet truth and exquisite intimacy; it is also fully alert to the power and irony of history. In evoking Lilly Bere, he has created a most memorable character.”—Colm Tóibín, author of the Costa Novel Award winning Brooklyn“A marvel of empathy and tact.” —Joseph O’Neill, author of the PEN / Faulkner Award winning novel Netherland“Barry takes quiet lives, in this instance Lilly Bere’s, adds the backdrop of political turmoil in Ireland after WWI, couples it with the expanse of 21st-century America, and ends up with a story that is both epic and intimate…this masterful storyteller takes[s] your breath away, after taking your hand and walking you through these lives, creating attachment and empathy for his characters yet leaving you with joy; appreciating light from the dark. You are safe and satisfied and enriched by his writing.” — Roxanne Coady, Publisher's Weekly "Galley Talk"“Somewhere on the second page of this book, your heart will break, and you will devour every glimmering image and poetic line as if the sheer act of reading might alter the course of Lilly Bere's haunting tale.  A story of love and loss, as Irish as the white heather and as big-hearted as America itself.” —Helen Simonson, author of the New York Times bestselling Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand Selected by the Kansas City Star as a Best Book of the Year“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.” — Patricia, Harty Irish America