No Country Book Review

Intergenerational family stories are a genre unto themselves. What makes one narrative compelling or another boring depends on the writer ensuring that all of the threads weave together to create a coherent and engaging tale.

No Country, by Kalyan Ray, was published in 2014. The novel starts in a small town in rural Ireland in 1843. Brendan and Padraig have been best friends since they were young. As it usually happens when we are on the cusp of adulthood, the boys are torn apart by blossoming and confusing romantic feelings. Padraig is unaware that his girlfriend, Brigid is carrying their child, when he leaves for the city to fight for his nation’s independence. Instead of returning home, he makes a dangerous mistake that sends him instead to India.

Back in Ireland, Brendan is raising Padraig and Brigid’s daughter, Maeve as his own child. When the potato famine struck, he decided that it would be better to start a new life in America. As the years pass and different branches of the family tree come into being, questions of identity, politics, and history play with the fate of their descendants.

The book started off well enough. I was drawn into the narrative and the character’s struggles. The problem is that about 2/3rds of the way in, I got lost. I can’t put my finger on what went wrong, but for whatever reason, the story lost its momentum. While I did finish it, the ending left me with an empty feeling.

Do I recommend it? No.

No Country is available wherever books are sold.

Charlotte & Arthur Book Review

A honeymoon is more than the first time that the newlyweds can have sexual relations without the naysayers putting their two cents in. It is a vacation that gives them the opportunity to break from the stress of the wedding, life, and the daily annoyances that are too easy to complain about.

Charlotte and Arthur is the 2021 novel by Pauline Clooney that tells the story of the honeymoon of Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Bell Nicholls. Their courtship was an unexpected one. Arthur was in love with Charlotte long before he proposed. When he finally did, her father, Patrick Bronte, was not pleased with the prospect of his last living child marrying his curate, who came from poor Irish stock.

Nevertheless, they did go ahead with their nuptials, which was then followed by a month long trip traveling through Ireland and meeting Arthur’s family. What starts out as a gamble for Charlotte, who by then was in her late 30’s and was convinced that she would never marry, turns into an unexpected love for her new husband.

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As a Bronte devotee, I loved this book. The details are fantastic. It was as if I was there with them. Clooney takes us into a part of Charlotte’s story that is often glossed over or not given the spotlight that it should. I will warn that this story is not for the Bronte neophyte. The ideal reader is someone who has an encyclopedia-like knowledge of these women, their lives, and writing.

My only complaint is that the figurative editorial red pen appeared far too much for my taste. When I am reading for pleasure, I don’t want to be thinking about what I would fix, if I was the author.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging Book Review

Alex Wagner is the face of modern America. European on her father’s side and Burmese (modern-day Myanmar) on her mother’s side, Ms. Wagner went on a journey to not only discover her family’s past, but also discover who she is as individual.

Her experience is detailed in the memoir, Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging. Inspired by a family member’s off-hand remark, Ms. Wagner decided to look into her familial history. In the process of exploring her mother’s family history in Myanmar and her father’s family history in Ireland and Luxembourg, the author learned a few things about herself in the process.

This book is a fascinating read. Not just from the genealogy angle, but from the angle of what it is to American, especially if the reader is mixed race.

I recommend it.

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