A pleasure for fans of Barry and his McNulty stories and a contribution not just to Irish literature in English, but also...

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DAYS WITHOUT END

A lively, richly detailed story of one slice of the Irish immigrant experience in America.

Orphaned in the famine—“all that was left in Ireland was the potato for eating and when the potato was lost there was nothing left in old Ireland”—Thomas McNulty is fresh off the boat in the U.S. when he finds himself wearing blue, packed off to the West to fight Indians. He's fortunate to have a friend in young John Cole, of a loving if potentially lethal bent. Other of his soldier friends are to varying degrees bloodthirsty, psychotic, or crazy brave, and they work evil on every Indian encampment they find until, sickened by it all, the two soldiers find themselves caring for a young Sioux girl they call Winona. It is perfectly in keeping with McNulty’s dark view of a world in which people are angels and devils in equal measure: “I seen killer Irishmen and gentle souls but they’re both the same,” he reflects, “they both have an awful fire burning inside them, like they were just the carapace of a furnace.” Protecting Winona means putting themselves in the path of their comrades, those among whom they have fought from one end of the country to the other against Indians and secessionists. Extending the McNulty saga from books such as The Temporary Gentleman (2014) and The Secret Scripture (2008), Barry writes with a gloomy gloriousness: everyone that crosses his pages is in mortal danger, but there’s an elegant beauty even in the most fraught moments (“By Jesus he just drives the knife into the chief’s side”). The story is full of casual, spectacular violence, but none of it gratuitous, and with a fine closing moral: everyone will try to kill you in America, but those who don’t are your friends, and, as Thomas says, “the ones that don’t try to rob me will feed me.”

A pleasure for fans of Barry and his McNulty stories and a contribution not just to Irish literature in English, but also the literature of the American West.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-42736-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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