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On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry

On Canaan's Side (2011)

by Sebastian Barry

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5964124,861 (3.84)1 / 112

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I never know what to say about Sebastian Barry's novels because whatever I say will pale in comparison to how beautiful his books are written, the believability of the characters, and the bittersweet story that his characters experience. On Canaan's Side is no exception. On Canaan's Side is a story of Lilly Bere, an 85-year-old woman, who is writing her story and thinking back on her life. As a young girl, she grew up in Ireland and after World War 1 she is forced to leave her home and family with her boyfriend Tadg after they are added to the blacklist. They flee to Chicago and she thinks her life will be better but the violence they tried to escape ended up following them across the pond. Soon Lilly is left by herself in this strange, new world. Throughout the rest of her life, she is trying to find something that resembles her life back in Ireland, the home she left when she was only a young woman.

As this is the third Sebastian Barry novel I have read, I am always amazed at how well he is able to bring me into the story and sympathize with the characters and the trials they experience throughout their life. The stories he writes link back to someone in his family, either he knew them or he was told only a sentence about their life because that was all his older relatives knew. Either way, he brings these people back to life. He gives them a story in order for them to be remembered in some way. Lilly's story is beautifully tragic but poetic and lyrical. Forced from her home and followed by violence and tragedy ever since Lilly ends up feeling lost after the death of her grandson and cannot experience tragedy anymore. While her death feels a long time coming, the devastating aspect of her death is that she never finds a home in this new world. ( )
  winterdragon | Jan 4, 2019 |
elderly Irish woman in service in USA reviews the relationships in her life whilst mourning death of beloved grandson.
  MarilynKinnon | Jul 11, 2018 |
I think this is Barry's best book. Beautifully written and a real page-turner to boot. My only criticism is that sometimes I got so caught up in the gorgeous prose that I forgot to pay attention to what was happening. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
  MelissaLenhardt | Mar 11, 2018 |
At 89 years old, Lilly relates a sentimental account of escape from political upheaval in Ireland to the US, sharing memories measured by the number of days since her grandson Bill died. The hyperbolic language, surely invented by writers of the "Irish immigrant in America" genre, is annoying. Lilly is shown to be ill-educated, ignorant, yet this is not apparent in her flights of flamboyant prose "I carry in my skull a sort of molten sphere instead of a brain, and I am burning there, with horror, and misery." Although I can appreciate Barry's talent with words, they do not sit comfortably with Lily's persona. If the theatrical clichéd quality can be tuned out, Lily's story of her eighty-nine years unfolds more credibly. There is no doubt that Barry can create a colourful turn of phrase and tell a vivid story, but they are not my choice. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Mar 3, 2017 |
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Livin' on Caanan's side , Egypt behind
Crossed over Jordan wide, gladness to find.
For Dermot and Bernie
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Bill is gone.
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(...)but in general as we entered we caught a strange note of gaiety and completion, as if this great building might be a hospital of sorts, but curing the unknown an non-specific maladies of the daily soul.
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Presents the tragic story of Lilly Bere, who flees Ireland for the United States under threat of death from the IRA and survives heartache, a midlife pregnancy, and the challenges of the Great Depression and multiple wars.

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