THE WALKING PEOPLE BY MARY BETH KEANE
Greta Cahill never believed she would leave her village in west Ireland, until she found herself on a ship bound for New York, with her sister, Johanna, and a boy named Michael Ward, a son of itinerant tinsmiths.
Despite her family's cynicism, Greta discovers that in America she can fall in love, earn a living, and build a life.
She longs to return to show her family what she has made of herself, but at risk of revealing a secret about her past to her children, decides to keep her new life separate, torn from the people she is closest to.
Decades later, she discovers that her children, with the best of intentions, have conspired to unite the worlds she has kept apart.
And though the Ireland of her memory may bear little resemblance to that of present day, she fears it is still possible to lose it all . . .
Oh wow, I really really loved this book.
The best way I can describe it is that it is the Irish Dominicana; a cross between Brooklyn and Dominicana. It is a journey of self discovery and growth that so many people have experienced for centuries and will continue to experience for decades and generations to come.
For those who have read my review about Dominicana, you'll see I wasn't its biggest fan but I think it might have been that I just wasn't in the mood for it when I read it. In the review I point out many reasons why I can see why so many people like it and to be honest, if I was to read it now, I would likely score it a lot higher. But when reading The Walking People I did see some lovely similarities in the journey and personal growth the characters go through. Neither of the stories are dramatic or over the top either; they're very real and tell the story as it is.
The Walking People is an eye opening and thought provoking story of family, loyalty and migration. And not just nay migration but the great Irish migration to the States that occurred throughout the last century and long before that. It is a story that is close to the heart of many Irish people as we all have friends and family who made the daring and uncertain trip to what they hoped would be a better and more prosperous life.
I learnt so much about Ireland, my home country, while reading this book. The fact that parts of Ireland had no electricity until the 60s blows my mind. And children didn't go to school, didn't have shoes and walked miles and miles in their bare feet to fetch water from the river or a well. Ireland is now one of the tech hubs of the world with one of the highest standard of living and to think how much has changed in such a short period of time is baffling!
I love how Keane captured the strength and importance of family throughout the book. No matter what, Greta and Michael always felt a pull back 'home,' even after spending more of their lives in the States than they did in Ireland. The loyalty and dedication that Irish people have for their family is immensely strong and this is something that hasn't changed and likely won't change.
The writing is beautiful and so illustrative - you are transported between modern day New York to New York in the 70s to Ireland in the 50s and 60s and you could so clearly picture yourself in these places. From the vast green fields of the west of Ireland to the bustling and vibrant metropolis of the Big Apple, Keane truly immerses the reader in her world and takes them on this epic journey.
And then of course there are the characters. They are so strong and each played such a pivotal role in the story. I loved how much Greta grew and how her and Michael became such a unit. Their unity and strength to make their life in New York is inspiring and so eye opening to what so many people have gone through. And not just Irish people going to America, all nationalities migrating to other places in hope of a better life.
The secret they refer to in the blurb doesn't actually play a big part in the story. It is always under the surface from about half way through the book but it's really only in the final 20% or so that it really plays a key role in the overall story. And because you, the reader, know what the secret is from half way through, it doesn't actually seem as big a deal. However, the reason for knocking down my score was because the big climax and reveal of the secret at the ending was...let's just say I found the ending unresolved and was a little annoyed the big climax that was about to happen didn't unfold for the reader. I won't say much more because it will spoil it.
So overall, really enjoyed it and it is a fantastic debut from Mary Beth Keane. A huge thank you to Penguin Books and Michael Joseph Books for sending me a copy.
IN 3 WORDS/PHRASES:
'We don't settle in place, we settle in people.'
Greta, I felt like I grew with her throughout this story and found her such a great and strong protagonist to follow.