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Astray by Emma Donoghue
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Astray (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Emma Donoghue

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2932038,130 (3.76)42
Member:shirleyonn
Title:Astray
Authors:Emma Donoghue
Info:Little, Brown and Company (2012), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:Read 2013

Work details

Astray by Emma Donoghue (2012)

  1. 00
    The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue (Cariola)
    Cariola: A similar collection of short stories, also based on historical figures, by the same author.
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» See also 42 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
Astray is a fascinating and diverse collection of fourteen short stories/vignettes loosely based on snippets from letters, newspaper articles, footnotes, and other historical documents. Donoghue has taken these small pieces and used both her research and her imagination to flesh them out into complete characters and stories. They range across centuries (from the 17th to the 20th) and are set in various places (London, Texas, Ontario, Massachusetts, and more), and the main characters come from all walks of life: a young Hessian soldier in the Revolutionary war, an elephant keeper, two Gold Rush prospectors, a pair of female sculptors, a runaway slave, a prostitute, a young widowed mother unable to support her child--to name but a few. What they all have in common is that each has in some way taken a life journey that has gone astray, whether due to accident, ambition, corruption, madness, or the pinch of necessity. Each story is followed by a brief explanation of the document that inspired it and what Donoghue learned about the real-life characters' fates. I found two of the stories that were based on letters particularly moving. "Counting Down the Days" tells of a young Irish man who emigrated to Canada, leaving his wife and baby behind; now, at last, she is sailing to join him. In "The Gift," an impoverished young widow reluctantly gives her baby daughter into the care of a social services agency; they place her in a foster home and eventually facilitate her adoption. The story consists of letters written by the birth mother, who attempts to retrieve her lost daughter, and by her adoptive father.

Astray bears some similarities to Donoghue's earlier collection, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, but her skills as a writer have been finely tuned since 2002. While not all of the stories are equally strong, there is something admirable in each, and something here for everyone. Highly recommended. ( )
3 vote Cariola | Jan 3, 2014 |


Rarely does an anticipated book meet my expectations. This short story collection is one of those rare finds. I am so glad that I chose to read it when I did and I highly recommend it, not only for the entertainment value, but for the beautiful prose. Each story has a definitive voice. As a fan of historical fiction, I also very much appreciated the endnotes about each story. ( )
  MargaretArmour | Dec 28, 2013 |
About 2/3 through: all of the stories are rich with historical detail, but the most heartbreaking one so far is "The Gift," a series of letters from a birth mother to the New York Children's Aid Society and from her child's adoptive parents, the Bassetts, to that same agency.

Having skimmed a few reviews (The Guardian, the Boston Globe), I'm very glad I'm listening to the audio version instead of reading it in print; the stories last longer and blossom more fully, whereas in print they are over too quickly. (Not to mention that all of the narrators are excellent.)

*

Overall, an incredibly strong collection. Each story's title is preceded by its setting (place and year), and each is sparked by a true piece of history, explained in a brief note following the story. The stories are perfect blend of research and imagination, and each one explores a different facet of the theme: people "stray" both geographically and morally. The audio version is excellent, with the Afterword read by the author herself
  JennyArch | Nov 20, 2013 |
Donoghue has collected various stories from newspapers, autobiographies and biographies and written short stories about the lives of those people. These stories are part fiction and part non-fiction and are an incredible display of an author's raw talent and ability. Donoghue explores various types of people from manual labourers to plantation owners and no particular story outshines the others; they are all incredible in their own ways. ( )
  JEB5 | Oct 30, 2013 |
I have a real affinity for short stories; well written interesting stories. To me, this collection was a bit uneven and ultimately unsatisfying. I don't think I will be drawn to read anymore of this author's works. There are just too many other short story collections in the world to enjoy.
( )
  LaurieAE | Aug 22, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
Tell us underneath what skies,
Upon what coasts of earth we have been cast;
We wander, ignorant of men and places,
And driven by the wind and the vast waves.
-Virgil, The Aeneid,
translated by Allen Mandelbaum (1971)
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Off your tuck this morning, aren't you?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316206296, Hardcover)

The fascinating characters that roam across the pages of Emma Donoghue's stories have all gone astray: they are emigrants, runaways, drifters, lovers old and new. They are gold miners and counterfeiters, attorneys and slaves. They cross other borders too: those of race, law, sex, and sanity. They travel for love or money, incognito or under duress.

With rich historical detail, the celebrated author of Room takes us from puritan Massachusetts to revolutionary New Jersey, antebellum Louisiana to the Toronto highway, lighting up four centuries of wanderings that have profound echoes in the present. Astray offers us a surprising and moving history for restless times.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:27 -0400)

A collection of short stories featuring a cross-section of society including runaways, drifters, gold miners, counterfeiters, attorneys, and slaves from Puritan Massachusetts and revolutionary New Jersey to antebellum Louisiana.

(summary from another edition)

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