Published: June 17, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction / Contemporary Fiction
Recommended for readers willing to take on a more ambitious book.
In rural Ireland in 1843, Padraig Aherne leaves behind his best friend, Brendan, and girlfriend, Brigid, and sets off to Dublin to rally for his country's independence, unaware that Brigid is pregnant with his child. But once he reaches the big city, a dangerous mistake forces him on a ship destined for Calcutta. As the potato famine devastates their home, Brendan escapes with Padraig's young daughter across the ocean, aboard one of the infamous "coffin ships" headed for America. As two family trees expand, moving towards a disastrous convergence from opposite sides of the world, Padraig's descendants struggle to define themselves and find their places in the world. From Padraig's reckless mother, to his precocious daughter Maeve who grows up to run a farm in Vermont, to Robert, a young policeman in British-era Calcutta who grapples with his mixed-blood heritage as an Anglo-Indian, to Billy Swint, a boy driven blind by his anger at his father, these are profoundly sympathetic women and men who transcend their eras and set up home in our hearts.
Unfurling against the fickle backdrop of history that includes terrorism on the Indian subcontinent, an East European pogrom, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, and the terrible intimacy of a murder in a sleepy New England town, the repercussions of the lives torn apart in No Country will echo through the generations to come. This is a sprawling, ambitious, and endlessly satisfying read about love and its betrayals, hardship, family, and belonging; and how all history is ultimately deeply personal.
There is quite a bit to commend No Country. Ray has a wonderful style--when he writes about the characters in Ireland, I hear an Irish accent; in India they have and Indian accent, and so forth. For the first half of the book, I was completely drawn in. The characters were so compelling that I just could not put the book down.
Unfortunately, something happened halfway through the book. Honestly, I can't put my finger on. The best guess I have is that Ray's long vision for the book--which I think was a family saga--just didn't hold up. As the two branches of Padraig's descendents--those from his daughter Maeve and those from his Anglo-Indian son Brendan--developed, I think they just grew too far apart within the plot for me.
I will say that finishing this book was a real chore for me. However, I will concede that it might have been that I was reading this book at the wrong time. Perhaps if I had been reading it when my life was a little less hectic I wouldn't have felt so worn out reading this. This book may require energy and focus I just wasn't able to give.
So, bottom line....this is probably a better book than I thought it was. I probably would recommend it to some more ambitious readers, but this is not something that should be read in a "busy season."
I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.