An often refreshing look into the forgotten plight of Irish indentured workers.

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The Virginia Valley

From the The Virginia Valley series , Vol. 1

After committing a crime against the aristocracy, an Irish blacksmith and his son are forced to become indentured servants in Virginia in Malcolm’s debut novel.

Born into a family of blacksmiths in Kilkenny, Ireland, in the mid-1800s, Aidan Smith is a strong, God-fearing man who cares for nothing more than his beloved wife, Louisa, and their young son, Jack. Shortly after Louisa becomes pregnant with their second child, three men accost her in the street. Aiden dashes to her aid and fights off her attackers, accidentally killing one of them. The recipient of the fatal blow happens to be a baron, so Aidan is arrested and faces the prospect of being sent to the gallows. His solicitor manages to lighten the sentence, so the Smith family is ordered to leave Ireland and become indentured servants in America. They set sail just before the dreaded potato blight, but typhus decimates the ship’s passengers and the pregnant Louisa dies. Aidan and Jack land in Philadelphia and the vindictive Mr. Snead, representative of Virginia landowner William Cauley, purchases their labor. The father and son are relieved when they arrive at the plantation to find that the owner and his wife treat their workers with respect and care. The Smiths set about making new lives for themselves and bond with black workers who have come from much harsher working conditions on other plantations. Still, Sneed’s menace is ever-present, and when escaped slaves start to arrive at night, trouble beckons. Overall, this is a story told with warmth and honesty. Malcolm sensitively and convincingly charts the troubles, needs, and triumphs of a father and son coming to terms with tragedy, while also struggling to gain a foothold in the unforgiving New World. The author’s synthesis of the Irish brogue, however, is gratingly unnatural and inconsistent: “God willin’, I believe I have it in me power ta grant ye that wish.” Furthermore, the fluid nature of the story’s interracial relations appears somewhat odd given the era, although progressive thinkers did exist. These are minor grumbles, though, and readers will find that they don’t detract too much from the compelling plot.

An often refreshing look into the forgotten plight of Irish indentured workers. 

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-615-99253-2

Page Count: 276

Publisher: LightSeeker Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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