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May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter…
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May the Road Rise Up to Meet You

by Peter Troy

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Phew. Audiobooks over ten discs long just seem to go on forever. When I ventured out of the house for lunch with friends today, I passed a woman leaving the library with a James Michener audiobook about as large as a freaking toaster and I just don't know how she does it. May the Road Rise Up to Meet You felt really long, and it's only 13 discs. Overall, I definitely enjoyed this, but it took some commitment to get through.

Parts of this novel, I simply loved and did not want to stop listening to at all. Unfortunately, the bulk of the novel bored me, especially in the beginning. When the book first starts, the four main characters are all children, and I just did not find myself as interested in those aspects of their lives. Two of the characters, Micah and Mary, are slaves in the United States, who, from separate places, get sold to new masters. While I know I should have been moved by this, there wasn't anything original in this part of the narrative, so I kept finding myself zoning out. Meanwhile, Ethan made his way from Ireland, beset by the potato famine and resulting hunger.

As the characters grew up, their tales became much more engaging. Micah and Mary both become slaves of utmost importance, respected, though still without freedom. Micah does better carpentry work than any white men, and Mary can make dresses just as nice (and for which her master charges just as much) as those French designers.

Ethan enlists in the Union Army with his friends, in the Irish brigade. He takes pictures of the conflict, because of his training as a photographer. The discussion of the slow movements of the army took me back to half-remembered lessons in a course on American Military History, which mostly taught me what a horrific memory I have for battles. His story line, more than any other, highlights the civil war from a regular man's perspective.

Marcella, though, had to be my favorite. Her family moved, a generation or two back, to America from Spain. She has so much sass. When the reader first meets her, she's playing a poker game with some wealthy, slave owning white men. She simpers and pretends to be a sweet, simple thing, but, actually, she's a card shark, taking their money to use for the abolition movement. Later, she gets involved in women's suffrage too. Marcella has so much strength, power and an indomitable will. In a dream cast, she would definitely be a young Natalie Wood, using all the sass from The Great Race and a little bit of the accent from West Side Story.

I rather expected this novel to be endlessly depressing as such lifelong, sweeping dramas as thing one tend to be in my experience. Actually, the message is one of hope and inspiration. The romances are sweet, and all of the characters utterly lovable.

Finally a full cast narration done well! Thus far, all the one's I've listened to have made some questionable casting decisions and lessened the impact. Each one of the voice actors matched their part well. Marcella sounds a bit like a sassy Natalie Wood, Ethan has his Irish brogue, Micah sounds deep and reliable, and Mary seems like just the kind of woman to excel at putting forth the face she wants whoever she's talking to to see.

Even better, they all do a pretty decent job imitating one another. The narration switches from character to character, but, once they meet up obviously, they converse with one another, so the actors sometimes need to do the voices for another actor's character. Some do better than others, but all do well enough. I doubt I would have been able to finish this in print form, as I might have DNFed in the slow passages. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Apr 1, 2013 |
Four different people coming from four different backgrounds. Mary and Micah are both slaves, Ethan left Ireland after the potato famine and journeys to New York and Marcella who become a fierce abolitionist.
All face adversity in varying degrees and yet eventually all four come together. This is a wonderful historical novel, with interesting characters. Ethan had me when leaving Ireland he tried to take with him the few books he and his sister (she dies before he leaves Ireland) had, that they had reread over and over. Troy covers much history, in different circumstances, but does it all very well. ( )
  Beamis12 | Jul 2, 2012 |
I don't know where to begin with this book as it was truly a gem. Mr. Troy has crafted really three love stories in this novel; that of the two main couples and a third for what we all long for, home. Ethan leaves Ireland during "The Hunger" after losing his beloved sister and comes to America to live with his father and brother. Mary, a slave is first horribly treated and then uplifted but still enslaved. Marcella, a woman of means and family breaks from her family as soon as she can because she knows she is more than just a pawn for her father's use and Micah, a slave sold away from his family who is a brilliant carpenter and engineer but who is treated like an animal.

These four distinct individuals travel different paths through the Civil War yet will come together to form a lasting bond. But it won't be easy traveling for any of them. Each character is unique, well defined and surrounded by a strong cast of supporting characters that help to tell the story. Mr. Troy has a way with his writing that is as different as any I have read; he slips from first person to second to third and you hardly notice as you find yourself so engrossed in the tale being told. The grammar and syntax changes for each character as well keeping true to their heritage and station in life. Even when they interact within a chapter they maintain their manner of speaking and description. This book is a marvel.

The Civil War plays an important role as well - the harm it did to the young men that fought and to the country as a whole. Marcella is an abolitionist so the slavery issue is front and center - Mary experiences the worst that a female slave can and then rises high; not understanding for a long while what freedom truly brings.

The writing is magical even when dealing with the worst of what one human can do to another. Mr. Troy truly has that way with words that makes it hard to put a book down. He beguiles you into his world and despite its hardships you don't want to leave. This will be a book that enters my to be read again shelf. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Apr 17, 2012 |
I loved this book - the characters were each so different and so compelling. I admit that it took me a while to get used to the sounds of the Southern and Irish voices but once I got over the first few pages and could focus on what Troy's characters were saying, I carried the book with me everywhere.

On the one hand, you might expect the book to be depressingly heavy since the lead characters go through so much - from the Great Famine in Ireland to slavery in the American South to the American Civil War and an escape to freedom. But while Peter Troy gives us a full sense of what it must have been like - undoubtedly drawing on his background as a history teacher - he also delivers characters with such heart, hope, and integrity that we come to care about them.

The book opens with the funeral of Ainslinn, the young sister and closest friend of twelve-year-old Ethan McOwen in Ireland during the Great Famine (The "Hunger"). The Hunger killed one million people and forced one million more to migrate to other lands to survive. Ethan and his family are on the verge of starvation and have decided to leave their home for New York. Ethan, his mother and his Aunt Em can only bring what they can carry during their 50 mile walk to the harbor. They have some raw potatoes, Aunt Em carries some of her wedding china and Ethan carries the six precious books he shared with his sister Ainslinn. There's this heartbreaking scene that sort of reminded me of The Gift of the Maji when Aunt Em can't carry her china and Ethan leaves behind some of his books to carry the plates for his Aunt Em. It had me crying as I read on the subway.

Ethan watches his Aunt unwrap the six ceramic plates her husband had bought her as a wedding present. They're handpainted with different designs, and she looks each of them over before picking out her favorite.

Well, dis one'll have to be enough to remember better days, she says, and wraps it back with her extra dress.
Don't, Em, Ethan's Mam protests. Moichael gave 'em to ya.
I have to, Nora, I can't carry 'em anymore....
Since at least Ainslinn's funeral, Ethan's felt like he's let everyone down. Da told him he was the man of the house when he left, and even if he was just kidding about that, seein' how he was just a lad of ten when his Da said it, Ethan still feels like he's failed to take care of all of them the way he should've, the way his Da would've, or even Seanny. And to see Aunt Em leave this treasure behind, after all she's already left back home, is about all he can take of that shame without doing something drastic. So he ducks behind a tree, unwraps his satchel, and makes the difficult decision in just a few seconds. Shakespeare, Homer, Milton and Chaucer make the cut, while Shelley and Swift are left behind. Out of sight form his Mam and Aunt Em, he places the two books side by side and leans them against a tree, hoping they'll be adopted by passersby for something more than kindling or to wipe their arses. Then he walks over to the discarded plates and begins to wrap them carefully in his satchel.
Ethan, what're ya doin? Aunt Em asks.
I can carry dem, he says with confidence.
Now don't be stahrtin'--
I can carry dem, he interrupts like he never would, somehow stumbling upon a man's sense of resolution, what with how neither his Aunt, nor his Mam, say anything more about it.

There's only enough money for Ethan's passage in steerage on the "cattle car" to America. His mother and aunt stay in Ireland and work until the family can raise money for their trip. On each leg of Ethan's journey, he somehow makes friends and it is by tenacity and luck that he survives. The friends that Ethan makes, his openness, his deep interest in the world around him stayed with me long after I'd finished the book.

We begin Micah's story when he's sixteen. We learn that Micah's family is well regarded by their master, so much so that his father is able to strike a bargain on the day of Micah's birth. Micah's father asks permission to plant and grow indigo in a small unused portion of the plantation. He works during his free time and the harvest goes towards paying for Micah's freedom. They have agreed that 1,000 lbs of indigo will buy Micah's freedom. This endeavor is a testament to Micah's father's hard work and their master's good faith, but it also depends upon the condition being complied with before any change of circumstance - and Fate is not kind to Micah or his family or his master. We learn the cruel fate of a slave, and the ways that Micah tries to cope and builds his life, drawing on the pride in work, integrity, and skills that he learned from his father.

Micah and Ethan are only two of the four main characters. Mary and Marcella are just as complex as they struggle to establish their identities and independence. All characters come together in a deftly crafted plot. If you enjoy historical fiction or are just looking for an engrossing read, do not miss May the Road Rise Up to Meet You.

ISBN-10: 0385534485 - Hardcover $25.95
Publisher: Doubleday (February 28, 2012), 400 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher. ( )
  gaby317 | Mar 9, 2012 |
In May the Road Rise Up to Meet You we encounter four remarkable characters in this memorable debut of historical fiction spanning the mid-nineteenth century through the end of the Civil War.

Ethan McOwen leaves Ireland in 1847 at the height of the famine and sails to America under squalid conditions joining his father and brother in New York. He becomes a successful photographer and volunteer in the Civil War with the Irish Brigade. Marcella Arroyo is a young Spanish woman whose wealthy family moves to America. She yearns to be independent and join the abolitionist movement as soon as she turns 21 and can move out of her parents home. Mary and Micah are slaves. While each has suffered harsh treatment in the past, Mary now has a better position as a house slave and companion for her owner’s daughter while Micah is considered a prize possession as a skilled carpenter and works long hours.

The four characters have parallel lives. Each is setting out on a journey, a new beginning, and along the way their stories intersect. Ethan has moved to American to escape the famine, Marcella begins anew when her family shuns her for leaving home, and Micha and Mary both experience being sold to new owners and separated from everything they have ever known. We learn their history and experience their present as the period comes alive with richly detailed descriptions. We feel the despair of a people suffering a famine, the grim conditions on a ship crossing the ocean, the harshness and pain of life as a slave, the horror of the Civil War battlefield and ultimately the beauty of love. There was much to like about each of these strong, complex characters.

The story is told in alternating points of view, rotating between the four main characters. The writing style took me a few chapters to get used to. There are no quotation marks around the dialog. Often the characters talk with a dialect. Occasionally the author slips into the second person and then seamlessly returns to third person the next time we read about that character. Different, but definitely worth the effort to read. ( )
  UnderMyAppleTree | Mar 8, 2012 |
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Book description
Four unique voices; two parallel love stories; one sweeping novel rich in the history of nineteenth-century America. This remarkable debut draws from the great themes of literature—famine, war, love, and family—as it introduces four unforgettable characters. Ethan McOwen is an Irish immigrant whose endurance is tested in Brooklyn and the Five Points at the height of its urban destitution; he is among the first to join the famed Irish Brigade and becomes a celebrated war photographer. Marcella, a society girl from Spain, defies her father to become a passionate abolitionist. Mary and Micah are slaves of varying circumstances, who form an instant connection and embark on a tumultuous path to freedom.

All four lives unfold in two beautiful love stories, which eventually collide. Written in gorgeous language that subtly captures the diverse backgrounds of the characters, and interspersed with letters, journals, and dreams, this unforgettable story, rendered in cinematic detail, is about having faith in life's great meaning amidst its various tangles.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385534485, Hardcover)

An engrossing, epic American drama told from four distinct perspectives, spanning the first major wave of Irish immigration to New York through the end of the Civil War.
 
Four unique voices; two parallel love stories; one sweeping novel rich in the history of nineteenth-century America. This remarkable debut draws from the great themes of literature—famine, war, love, and family—as it introduces four unforgettable characters. Ethan McOwen is an Irish immigrant whose endurance is tested in Brooklyn and the Five Points at the height of its urban destitution; he is among the first to join the famed Irish Brigade and becomes a celebrated war photographer. Marcella, a society girl from Spain, defies her father to become a passionate abolitionist. Mary and Micah are slaves of varying circumstances, who form an instant connection and embark on a tumultuous path to freedom.
    
All four lives unfold in two beautiful love stories, which eventually collide. Written in gorgeous language that subtly captures the diverse backgrounds of the characters, and interspersed with letters, journals, and dreams, this unforgettable story, rendered in cinematic detail, is about having faith in life's great meaning amidst its various tangles.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:44 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"An engrossing, epic American drama told from four distinct perspectives, spanning the first major wave of Irish immigration to New York through the end of the Civil War. Four unique voices; two parallel love stories; one sweeping novel rich in the history of nineteenth century America. This remarkable debut draws from the great themes of literature--famine, war, love, and family--as it introduces four unforgettable characters. Ethan McOwen is an Irish immigrant whose endurance is tested in Brooklyn and the Five Points at the height of its urban destitution; he is among the first to join the famed Irish Brigade and becomes a celebrated war photographer. Marcella, a society girl from Spain, defies her father to become a passionate abolitionist. Mary and Micah are slaves of varying circumstances, who form an instant connection and embark on a tumultuous path to freedom. All four lives unfold in two beautiful love stories, which eventually collide. Written in gorgeous language that subtly captures the diverse backgrounds of each character and interspersed with letters, journals, and dreams, this unforgettable story, rendered in cinematic detail, is about having faith in life's great meaning amidst its various tangles"--… (more)

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