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On Canaan's Side Narrated By Lilly Bere, On Canaan S Side Opens As She Mourns The Loss Of Her Grandson, Bill The Story Then Goes Back To The Moment She Was Forced To Flee Sligo, At The End Of The First World War, And Follows Her Life Through Into The New World Of America, A World Filled With Hope And Danger

10 thoughts on “On Canaan's Side

  1. says:

    Though this is only my second Sebastian Barry novel I feel I can recognize his voice now First one I read of him it was The secret scripture and, as I found out later, it was part of a cycle McNulty Family This one in turn with other titles creates Dunne Family.Both novels being different are alike or perhaps it was the other way round Maybe I ll find accurate words to review The secret scripture yet but now I focus on On Canaan s Side Lilly Dunne, well, let s be exact, Lilly Dunne Kinderman Bere is eighty nine when she starts her account and just buried her grandson, Bill Every chapter, that starts with subtitle first day without Bill, then second, third and so on to the very end titled night, is a record of a long life against the vast backround of turbulent times The most important moments of Lilly s life are also key moments in history.Lilly lived long enough to experience forced escape from native Ireland to America, on Cannan s side, though it didn t save her nor her husband The narrative shifts back and forth so we could see her life in Dublin, in reminiscences we can see all the boys that perished in the Great War along with her brother Will Dunne, we can see Lilly married and then, in rather advanced age of forty something, abandoned with the new born baby, we can see Vietnamese war and living hell that destroyed peace of her son, we can see Lilly mothering beloved grandson to finally witness his participation in the war on the desert and its disastrous aftermath.Lilly s voice is like distant echo of previous years Half nostalgic, half mourning For the life one had and lost For the life one could have had if only history didin t hunt us down And now for Bill I am an interloper at the feast of life, I am eating food and drinking drink meant for him as she states.Lilly is fragile, old woman in the latter part of her life but yet once she had to be strong to outlive the whole twentieth century and its atrocities We can admire her steadfastness and almost superhuman strength so doesn t suprise us at all that men here are shown as weaker sex For they are weaker almost in every way physically, socially and emotionally I thought it was very moving and heart wrenching story but it felt at times too fragmentary Though Lilly s voice is clear and strong the other voices seem a bit muffled if not barely audible I think I would make do without some threads while others I would love to see developed Mister Nolan and his history is one of them for sure Some explanations feel a bit unfinished though it rests on reader s sensitivity and perceptiveness to fill in the blanks In a way I think Barry writes over and over the same theme and probably the other tomes of the cycle would deepen and broaden our perspective and understanding.

  2. says:

    If you ve read a few Barry novels this feels formulaic and repetitive A woman at the end of her long life narrates her story, echoing The Secret Scripture and she has to flee Ireland because of finding herself on an IRA death list, echoing The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty It s odd he wrote this after those two books as if he was stuck in a groove because it s like an inferior version of both The narrator rather rambles on in a somewhat sentimental vein I skim read the last fifty pages because I was bored 2.5 stars.

  3. says:

    Sencillamente, magn fico Despu s de leer Un caballero provisional no pude resistirme a leer algo m s de este genial escritor y, con seguridad, ahora mismo empezar a otro libro suyo En este caso, nos encontramos ante la historia de una mujer que tuvo que luchar por sobrevivir en una tierra nueva y desconocida como era Estados Unidos Pero, sobre todo, creo que el escritor quiere hacernos reflexionar sobre el horror de la guerra y sus consecuencias.

  4. says:

    The lad knows how to unspool a yarn, that is for certain If you re planning to read this book, I would caution you against reading long detailed reviews about the plot and characters The story really needs to unfold at the author s pace in the proper sequence If you have hints of what s coming, it will dull your enjoyment of the book JUST THE BASICS Lilly is an 89 year old woman who is preparing to take her own life Her grandson Bill has committed suicide, which is just one too many losses for her in a long life of great loss She does not want to linger in a world without her Bill Lilly spends seventeen days reeling out her life story in what she calls a confession She tells of her girlhood in Ireland, and then the rest of her life as a wind blown immigrant in America Sebastian Barry is a gifted Irish storyteller My only reservation about this novel is that there s an almost affectless quality to much of the narration The most joyful and the most heartbreaking moments are presented with a certain detachment that keeps the reader at a distance from the events And yet, I read from page 67 to the end all in one sitting I tend to be a restless reader, and a book has to be a genuine jewel to hold me still for that long On Canaan s Side is one of those jewels, but it has the muted luster of a pearl rather than the dazzle of a diamond I found it unobjectionable, as Lilly herself might say.

  5. says:

    It is the writing that makes this book special Some lines are lyrical, for example when describing landscapes Some are amusing, for example in dialogs Some lines express in the most perfect words emotions, both jubilant and sad Questions about existence and life and if one can even go on are written in words that speak to you Well at least they did to me Fear and loss and total aloneness, love and friendship and exuberant joy, betrayal and forgiveness are explored This book movingly deals with the emotions that make up the jumbled mix of our lives These emotions touch us through the author s lines We follow an Irish immigrant, Lilly Bere She is born at the turn of the 20th century From Dublin she immigrates to the US where she lives in Chicago, Cleveland, Washington D.C and then Bridgehampton, NY The book says a lot about what it is to be an immigrant, to be from another place one can never quite forget The United States, being the melting pot that it is, has many immigrants, each with their own stories to tell The book is peppered with such stories Lilly misses the white heather on her father s hill for the Greek it is the honey of his homeland that comforts These stories make the characters unique Lilly is 89 when she now sits down to write of her life This is her last confession It is given to us so we can think, compare, draw conclusions and perhaps judge The wars of the 20th century, the First World War, the Second World War, the Vietnam War and the first Iraqi war, as well as Ireland s fight for independence were not merely events that happened parallel with Lilly s own life They shaped her life and the lives of those she loved In the novel we are not placed there in the battles the focus is rather the consequences of war experiences on individuals lives and ultimately on Lilly s life Each chapter in the book is a countdown of the 17 days following the death of her grandson Billy What will she do then Being black, put passing as white, is another themeLook at the title It leaves a message Grainne Gillis narrates this audiobook I thought she did a tremendous job She captures different dialects and the characters personalities wonderfully Rarely do I want a narrator to do anything but read the author s lines in this book she does than this, but she does it so pitch perfectly that I loved it She sings the lines of songs She expresses perfectly the thoughts lying beneath the author s lines She is the delicious icing on a scrumptious cake Don t read this book listen to it instead, narrated by Grainne Gillis When I read what this book was to be about, it didn t particularly capture my interest It is through the author s words that the book shines.

  6. says:

    I started with a few quotations from Barry, to show the poetry of it all, and realized that I would end up quoting most of the book What is the point When I read, it is for myself alone the closer and personal the reading, in fact, the less I can speak of it to the outside world and so, in the end, only the vaguest of impressions become transmuted, eventually, into a paragraph or two on the meaning of what I ve just read a phrase, a sentence to jog the memory and bring back to mind the beauty that I just experienced or the stone in my heart that he lodged there Lilly Bere s life is all of that, as she writes in her 89th year and recalls the forces that moved her from Ireland to America Forces that moved her because she did not go willingly and yet paradoxically, willingly she sailed with her first beau, to escape a sentence of death cast on their lives She went neither willingly, nor unwillingly, but unobjectionably the word Barry uses to describe her plight and most apt it is Lilly s entire existence was a long stream of unobjectionable circumstances that occurred to her, or fell on her like fate, or she took into herself, like a prayer.Tag was a circumstance that happened to her Kinderman was her fate Ed and Bill were her prayers.In 256 pages, Barry manages to hold and round out the history of Ireland and America in a way that ten history books could not do how the thousands, millions of individual souls that crossed the wide, roiling sea came to rest on stranger ground to build a house and home, without leaving behind the house and home in Ireland how they encountered others, leading parallel lives who in their minds longed to reverse the voyage undertaken by Lilly to go home to the heather and the hearth fire, who in their own dreams hear Lilly s echoed life And I am remembering other things, the bell flowers on the ditches that we could burst between thumb and index finger and the blackthorn blossom in April, a greyish white, and the mayblossom itself in May, a different white, a whiter white, and the gorse as yellow as a blackbird s bill in May also, with its own smell, the smell as near as bedamn to the smell of a baby s mouth after drinking its mother s milk, I do bellieve And the rooks rowing in the old high trees above Kelshabeg, such fractious birds, yet married to the one bird all their life like good Catholics, and the wren in its tiny kingdoms in the earthen banks, and the wood pigeon offering its one remark, over and over, and where there were storms out in the Wicklow sea we heard the seagulls bickering and badgering on the winds, and in the dense copses the badgers themselves in the night time, choosing among roots, and the fox both feared and admired, the red renegade, coming down to test our henhouse for weakness in the dark, and the nightingales and the stormy spring the fresh arrowheads of the house martins and the swallows, could even God tell the difference between And Maud and me, before any of our life took darkness to it, going along without a thought for tiredness, it did not exist and when we got to the cottage there was the bucket at the door to pull a drink out of, and a stew sitting on the hearth and bread perfected in the pot oven on the yard and then tea to kill the thirst, the best drink for thirst and then bright early in the morning to get up in the sun and set to all the tasks I am writing it, I am writing it and I spill it all out on m lap like very money, like riches , beyond the dreams of avarice.Such is the life of the immigrant soul.And then, like a current, like a silent underground river that moves beneath it all, the echoes of the war drums The First World War, The Second World War, Vietnam, The Gulf War the thudding echo, like a heartbeat that will not die, from William Dunne to William Dunne Kinderman Bere, all of them, may they rest in peace.It is possible, Barry suggests, to finally lay down the implements of war Robert Doherty did, beyond all reason and logic, truer to the human heart than the political one Lilly Bere did, truer to her compassion than to her fear, even as she steps across the seas again, at the end of life s light.

  7. says:

    A Discovered HappinessA sad book that turns out not sad at all Bill is dead What is the sound of an eighty nine year old heart breaking is the arresting opening Grief stricken at the death of her grandson, Irish expatriate Lily Bere wants only to set down her memories before putting a quiet end to her own life too Each chapter, headed simply First Day without Bill and so on, tells us a little bit about her present life and a lot about her past, until eventually the two meet up She is living in the Hamptons, in a small cottage fixed up for her by her former employer for whom she worked as cook Her memories take her back to the age of four, in the early years of the last century, when her father was a senior police officer in Dublin Associated with the wrong side, unfortunately, for in the struggles for Irish independence, Lily and her fianc are forced to flee to America with a price on their heads The Canaan s Side of the old hymn, the near bank of the Promised Land after the crossing of the Red Sea, is of course the USA, where Lily and her lover are forced to lead a fringe existence under assumed names It will be long before she will feel herself truly American but it is already clear that she ends up surrounded by caring, tactful people who respect and even love her.Just listen to the exuberance of Barry s writing, as here when Lily and a fellow servant are taken by an admirer to ride their first ever big dipper in Luna Park in Cleveland We poised, three beating hearts, three souls with all their stories so far in the course of ordinary lives, three mere pilgrims, brilliantly unknown, brilliantly anonymous, above a Cleveland fun park, with the wonderful catastrophe of the sunlight on the river, the capricious engineering of the tracks, the sudden happiness of knowing Joe. So begins a two page paragraph, all in a single sentence, as the poise and the rush and the joy and the terror, laughing and crying all at the same time, becomes the pivot point for an entire life.Barry s technique of adding facts only when truly important makes it very difficult to say much about the plot Suffice it to say that it will take Lily from the bloodshed of the Troubles in Ireland to an America that moves from the heady Twenties through the Depression and several wars All the men in Lily s life will be touched by war, from the First World War that killed her beloved elder brother to the First Gulf War that so affected her grandson Bill The American assassinations of the Sixties will also play a part, bringing to the surface issues of race that had been a dormant subtext from quite early on I am not convinced that Barry can quite manage to sustain the story over such a long span there are some chapters about two thirds of the way through when the intensity flags somewhat, and a couple of revelations towards the end stretch credulity a little But his ability to balance the epic with the intimate, as the book jacket rightly claims, is nonetheless amazing.Barry begins many of his books at roughly the same place, with the agonized birth of the Irish state, but extends them further in time and place with each one A Long Long Way, for instance, about Lily s brother, addresses the paradox of Irish soldiers fighting for their country in Flanders only to be treated as traitors when they returned home a point which Barry gently parallels to the plight of Vietnam veterans here And The Secret Scripture, another memory piece, shows Barry s remarkable ability to get into the mind of a very old woman that is one of the true joys of this book also For what might have turned into a despairing wail of grief becomes instead a tapestry of light and wonder And I notice again in the writing of this confession that there is nothing called long ago after all When things are summoned up, it is all present time, pure and simple So that, much to my surprise, people I have loved are allowed to live again What it is that allows them I don t know I have been happy now and then in the last two weeks, the special happiness that is offered from the hand of sorrow.

  8. says:

    Wow what a wonderful book I loved it Still sort of speechless because of the beauty and strength of it I do intend to write a further review, when ready

  9. says:

    When I started this book I just read the first 30 pages and did not get back to it until the next day and when I picked it up again I was hooked and could not put it down I really enjoyed this novel I had previously read The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and loved it so was looking forward to this book.This book is long listed for the Booker Prize and tells the story of 89 year old Lilly Dunne s departure from Ireland with her boyfriend Tadg who was a member of the Black and Tans and the IRA have a price on his head This departure from Ireland takes place shortly after the first world war and tells the story of Lilly s new life in America The story opens with the death of Lilly s grandson Bill and from here Lilly remembers back on her life in Ireland and America and her adventures include fake identies, the IRA, betrayal, love, loss and hope Each chapter is narrated by Lilly as each day slowly passes since the burial of her grandson Bill and she remembers her life as she has lived it.The prose in this book is beautiful and the story is really well told The first 30 pages of this Novel I was a little fazed as to where the story was going but after the initial first couple of chapters the story flows and I could not put it down There is a lot in this book and so much that Barry leaves to the imagination Quite a few issues come up in the book and are not fully explained or dealt with by Barry but I feel that is how real life is and perfer this sort of novel than one where all the loose ends are tied up as this is not a protrayal of real life and I love the fact that Barry leaves plenty to the imagination in this book This is a short novel and a very easy read.Ok then why the 4 starts would have given it 4.5 if I could I did not understand or like how the novel ended, and I can not get it out of my head I am looking forward to other readers opinions and I think there will be plenty Did Barry do this on purpose Perhaps, as I can imagine this aspect of the book will make for a great Bookclub discussion and I for one will be putting my vote on this book at my next bookclub meeting.To sum this book up a great read, a real page turner and a great bookclub read.

  10. says:

    I have read three of Sebastian Barry s books so far, The Secret Scripture, Annie Dunne and this one In all of them, he shows himself to be capable of creating hugely memorable characters and of relaying their thoughts in such beautiful language that I find myself rereading passages frequently This is writing to savour like good wine, full of intense expression and deep feeling I think my favourite of the three is Annie Dunne because Barry hardly bothers with any plot at all so the spare story is carried along by the beauty of the writing alone I had a problem with the unlikely conjunction of circumstances in the plot of The Secret Scripture and that marred for me an otherwise moving reading experience I very nearly had the same reaction to the plot twists he weaves into On Canaan s Side but on reflection, I feel that he managed this one successfully, that some of the coincidences which occur are fitting, and the ending just right Spoiler alert.The only quibble I have is the very broad range of the story not so much the accumulation of war scarred relatives I think that is unfortunately all too credible but the veiled allusions to the Kennedy family, the Martin Luther King references, and the miscegenation theme Barry can write so well and so easily about the generation of Irish people who lived through the war of independence that I wonder if it isn t his publishers who have put pressure on him to broaden his themes and to add extra sensational plotting to appeal to a wider audience He captures so well the dilemma Irish people of the early twentieth century faced as the old colonial power began to loose its hold on Ireland Some had been in the resistance, others had collaborated with the old regime and they all had to work out some entente after independence There were many tragedies as a result and everyone paid a price, perpetrators as well as victims I think the paid assassin character is very interesting and his story might have been developed but of course, since the account was all from Lily s point of view, and unless a convenient diary or some documentation was found later, that was impossible In spite of those reservations, I am convinced that Sebastian Barry is a fine writer and I will look out for books by him.

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