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The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally
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The Great Shame

by Thomas Keneally

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From the beloved author of Schindler’s List comes a sprawling account of the lives of dozens of Irish men (and some women) who fled or were transported from Ireland to farflung places, including principally the penal colonies of Australia, the United States, Central America, and Continental Europe. The story begins with one of Keneally’s own relatives by marriage, a minor figure named Hugh Larkin who is meant to typify the Irish in his relative anonymity, his revolutionary tendencies, his forced family-separating transportation, and his new life abroad (including a new wife and family). Quickly, however, the stories Keneally retells are those of the more famous: John Mitchell, William Smith-Obrien, the poet Esperanza and her son Oscar Wilde, Thomas Meagher, John Boyle O’Reilly, Charles Stewart Parnell and dozens of other familiar names. Keneally is a magnificent juggler; for the most part he manages to keep all the balls in the air as he tells these interwoven stories over the decades from the 1820s into the early 20th century. Certain accounts are riveting; the elaborately plotted escape of six Fenians from the penal colony aboard a New Bedford whaler is a tale of great suspense. Other choices seemed a little odd: a minute-by-minute account of the last hours of John Boyle O’Reilly lacked both tension and interest. This sprawling tome needed an editor. (Indeed, the text was marred by careless grammar errors, such as the use of the phrase court martials instead of courts martial.)

Keneally has made great use of original sources, from which he recites at length, and he is a master at deploying particulars to convey a sense of the whole -- at times, however, one wondered whether continuously referring to one member of the diaspora as "Saint Kevin" from beginning to end was a bit laborious and I wasn't sure I needed to hear about the (sad) end of every single one of his offspring, no matter how tangential to the history.

The title and subtitle were also confusing. While Keneally attempts to explain the use of the word “shame” in an afterword, one does not sense in his retelling either shame concerning the failure to build an Irish state or survivor’s guilt. Indeed, I read more frustration than shame into these stories -- primarily at the unending streak of factionalism and backstabbing that typified every effort to launch a free Ireland in the period. As for “triumph” of the Irish in the English-speaking world, the lives told were indeed in some cases very successful and even redemptive, but as many ended in the gutter dead of alcoholism or its complications. Triumph did not seem like le mot juste for this disparate collection of lives. ( )
  Bostonseanachie | Dec 14, 2016 |
I'm looking forward to reading this book for my gg grandfather, Charles Piper, left Ireland in 1845 for Canada, to escape famine and religious persecution.
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
I did not think much of the writing in Schindler's List, which I recently read, and here I found that the style was not due to Keneally being cajoled into writing that book but that it really is his own. He drops the "and" from a series of three when the conjunction would clarify and he uses fragments without intention. Not like this. Where they do not add to his point. But detract.

Plus I just finished Governess about miserable C19 people so maybe I should take a break from miserable C19 people before facing more, especially in a voice I don't like.

(He writes -- in the 1990s! -- that in the 1830s the "droit de seigneur" was still in effect in Ireland. I'm sure peasants suffered rape aplenty but I'm surer that this "right" was neither codified nor regularly practiced.)
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
This is not Keneally's greatest book - I'm glad I read it, but . . . He tells the story of Irish resistance to British rule during the 19th century through the stories of key individuals who were captured and sent to Australia as convicts. One of the minor players he describes is the ancestor of his wife. The problem is that there is too much mind-numbing detail about the activities of the individuals being followed, and not enough background information on the Irish resistance to the British to allow the lay reader to put the events into context. Read March 2011. ( )
  mbmackay | Mar 31, 2011 |
An absoulutly fabulous book! I thought that the author did a great job of following different peoples lives from Ireland to Australia and then in some cases on to the USA. Lots of details, which made it very interesting. Definatly for someone who is interested in history! ( )
  TracyK1 | Feb 27, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385720262, Paperback)

The Booker Prize-winning Schindler's List (on which Steven Spielberg based his Oscar-winning film) demonstrated that Thomas Keneally could make history as compelling as any novel. His latest book, The Great Shame, expands upon the achievement of his earlier fiction. This is more than just the story of the Keneally family tree, transported from Ireland to Australia in the 19th-century. It is the story of how Irish men and women came to be dispersed all over the world, and what they made of their lives in their new homes. It is the epic history of a whole people.

The Great Shame is hypnotically readable, partly because Keneally weaves his many narrative strands so expertly and touches his story with many moments of beautiful writing, but also because it is all, even at its most extraordinary, completely true. The result is astonishingly vivid. What The Great Shame most resembles is a classic 19th-century novel: Dickens, say, or George Eliot. Readers avidly follow Keneally's characters through their successes and their trials, until the very last sentence in the book when, like a master from the classic age of the novel, Keneally pays tribute to "the piquant blood and potent ghosts of the characters to whom we now bid goodbye." --Adam Roberts

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:11 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In the nineteenth century, Ireland lost half of its population to famine, emigration to the United States and Canada, and the forced transportation of convicts to Australia. The forebears of Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List, were victims of that tragedy, and in The Great Shame Keneally has written the full story of the Irish diaspora with the narrative grip and flair of a novel. Based on unique research among little-known sources, this book surveys eighty years of Irish history through the eyes of political prisoners - including Keneally's ancestors - who left Ireland in chains and eventually found glory, in one form or another, in Australia and America."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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