An Irish immigrant builds a new life in Canada, the decades marked by marriage, children and the odd otherworldly encounter.
Vidal (Madame Royale, 2010, etc.) successfully transforms family stories into a historical novel that chronicles the life of her great-great-great-grandfather Daniel O’Connor, who established a homestead in Ontario in the 19th century. O’Connor, a blacksmith living in County Cork, Ireland, is frustrated in his desire to train as a doctor because of English laws restricting Catholics’ religious freedom and economic chances. When the political activities of his wild younger brother Owen cast suspicion on O’Connor, he flees Ireland, carrying just two mementos of his homeland—a white rosebush uprooted by his mother and a “paradise tree,” a wooden crucifix so called because it represents a ladder of suffering to climb to heaven. Nine years later, he has carved Long Point farm out of the wilderness, creating a home despite the new continent’s own anti-Catholic prejudice. He marries Brigit, a girl 18 years younger than he is, then almost loses her to Owen, who arrives at the farm after his own midnight departure from Eire. But when a vision of his mother appears to him, hands on hips, he finds the will to throw his brother out of the house and confront his bride. She sobs and swears she will die of shame, insisting, “ ‘Oh, yes, I will die. I will,’ she choked. ‘But fret not....I’ll be getting over it.’ ” And she does, bearing 11 children. The novel follows them as they grow to adulthood, marry and have children of their own, with each section of the book told through the eyes of a different character. Though the story unwinds slowly, it never drags.
An imaginative, meticulously told history that will especially appeal to those with Irish roots.