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2022
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A portrait of life in Ireland follows sixteen-year-old Nancy Martin, the only member of her family to survive the Great Famine, as she embarks on an affair with a handsome gardener, setting off a devastating chain of events that continues to unfold over three generations. - (Baker & Taylor)

This moving portrait of life in Ireland follows 16-year-old Nancy Martin, the only member of her family to survive the Great Famine as she embarks on an affair with a handsome gardener, setting off a devastating chain of events that continues to unfold over three generations. - (Baker & Taylor)

“Poignant....powerful.”—New York Times

One Irish family’s fight for survival makes for an unforgettable tale of love, abandonment, hunger, and redemption.


At just sixteen, Nancy Martin leaves the small island of Cape Clear for the mainland, the only member of her family to survive the effects of the Great Famine. Finding work in a grand house on the edge of Cork City, she is irrepressibly drawn to the charismatic gardener Michael Egan, sparking a love affair and a devastating chain of events that continues to unfold over three generations.

Spanning more than a century, Billy O’Callaghan’s weaves together the journey of an Irish family determined against all odds to be free. In 1920, Nancy’s son Jer has lived through battles of his own as a soldier in the Great War. Now drunk in a jail cell, he struggles to piece together where he has come from, and who he wants to be. And in the early 1980s, Jer’s youngest child Nellie is nearing the end of her life in a council house just steps away from her childhood home; remembering the night when she and her family stole back something that was rightfully theirs, she imagines what lies ahead for those who will survive her.

This moving portrait of life in Ireland is set in the village where O’Callaghan’s family has lived for generations, and is partly based on stories told by his parents and grandparents. His writing is imbued with lived experience and hard-earned truths, creating a novel so rich in life and empathy it is impossible to let go of his characters. An ambitious and lyrical family saga, this novel confirms Billy O’Callaghan as one of the finest living Irish writers.

- (Perseus Publishing)

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Reviews Via Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly Reviews

O'Callaghan's tender latest (after the collection The Boat Man) explores three generations of an Irish family forced to deal with hardship and loss. In 1920, Jer Martin, a WWI veteran, still suffers the trauma of trench warfare. After the death of his sister, Mamie, Jer goes on a bender and ends up sleeping it off in jail, where he nurses a grudge against Mamie's worthless husband, Ned Spillane. A section set in 1911 has Jer's mother, Nancy, who was born at the end of the potato famine, remembering an episode when she found work at age 19 in one of the big houses of Cork City. There, she was seduced by the estate's handsome married gardener, Michael Egan, and went on to have two children by him. And in 1982, Jer's dying, 64-year-old daughter, Nellie, living in a council house with her daughter and son-in-law, recalls the time Jer was forced to illegally bury her dead infant son in a cemetery, only to be caught in the act by the local priest. Inspired by stories from his own family history, O'Callaghan delivers a slim novel that is thick with memory and regret. The hard lives of the Martins leave readers with an indelible impression of Irish history. (Mar.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly.

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