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Synopsis

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.

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On Canaan's Side
Average rating
4.5 / 5
1 person found this helpful
October 4th, 2013
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.
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