On Canaan’s Side / Sebastian Barry

Grabbed by chance off a library shelf, what a fortuitous find this novel turned out to be.  From the very first page it captured my full attention.  In a first-person narrative, eighty-nine year old Lilly Bere recounts the haunting tale of her life.  It is a story of love and loss, broken family ties and unexpected friendships.  The daughter of  a Dublin policeman, Lilly revisits her eventful past, starting from the time she was forced to flee Ireland as a young woman shortly after the First World War.  Her destination is the United States, and over the course of the next seven decades she moves from Chicago to Cleveland to Washington D. C., and finally spends her final days in New York.  On Canaan’s Side is Barry’s fifth novel, but he also has written numerous plays and three books of poetry.  I am not surprised to learn he is a poet, as this novel is filled with poetic lines and clever turns of phrase.  Simply put, he is an amazing writer.  The fictional universe he has created in this novel resonates with the quiet truths of a life fully lived.  Lilly Bere is a character no reader will soon forget.  I certainly plan to hunt down Barry’s four other novels, and his poetry too.



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