Here at last is one Irish family's epic journey, capturing the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience. In a rousing tale that echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family, inhabiting a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations. Selling both their catch--and their crops--to survive, these people subsist on the potato crop--their only staple food. But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees in one of the greatest rescues in human history: the Irish Emigration to America. Danger and hardship await them there. Honora and her unconventional sister Maire watch their seven sons as they transform Chicago from a frontier town to the "City of the Century", fight the Civil War, and enlist in the cause of Ireland's freedom. The Kelly clan is victorious. This heroic story sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today's 44 million Irish Americans.
In the author's colorful and eclectic life, she has written and directed award-winning documentaries on Irish subjects, as well as the dramatic feature Proud. She's been an associate producer on Good Morning America and Saturday Night Live, written books on Martin Scorsese, World War II, and Bosnia, and a novel based on her experiences as a former nun - Special Intentions. She is a frequent contributor to Irish America Magazine and has a PhD in English and Irish literature.
In this scattered retelling of her own family's struggles during the Great Irish Starvation, Kelly captures the suffering but neglects the inner lives of her thinly drawn characters. In Bearna, Ireland, in 1839, Honora Keeley falls in love with Michael Kelly after finding him swimming in Galway Bay, and they soon marry despite her father's objections. For a short time, life, while far from perfect, is sweet. Then comes the blight, destroying most of their potato crop. After losing the harvest for the third time in four years, the Kellys flee to America and settle in Chicago. Though the research is meticulous and the famine horrors are catalogued in great detail, the Kellys' lives in America are presented haphazardly, making it difficult to keep track of the huge cast of characters when decades are skipped seemingly at random. The characters themselves function more as types-greedy landlords, arrogant Englishmen-to further the plot. Despite its flaws, the novel may appeal to fans of Frank McCourt and Irish history, as the trials of the Kelly family echo the struggle of the Irish to assimilate while retaining their own heritage. (Feb.)
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Grand Central Publishing
February 08, 2009
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