Summary: 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. -- Grand Central Publishing
Happy St. Patrick's Day! And I can't think of a better way to celebrate than talking about GALWAY BAY by Mary Pat Kelly. I love that the bloggers voted for GALWAY BAY to be the March Early Birds Blog Tour book -- it is just so timely. Since I'm not Irish and don't really enjoy green beer, I never feel like I am "worthy" to celebrate this holiday; however, after reading this book, I definitely feel like an honorary Irishman this year!
As many of you know, I am always drawn to historical fiction books. GALWAY BAY was a wonderful read. I haven't read many books about Ireland and its history (and it's been a very long time since I've read Leon Uris' TRINITY), but I've always been very interested in the Irish people. Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I have any Irish blood in our veins; and I have to admit that I don't know much about Ireland's history beyond the potato blight in the mid 1800s. I think that's one of the reasons that I enjoyed GALWAY BAY so much was that it contained so much of Ireland's fascinating history.
When I first started this book, I was a little concerned about all of the native Irish words that were referenced. Most I could figure out from the sentences' context, but some had me wondering. I'm not sure if there were eventually less Irish words in the book or I got used to them, but by page 100 I wasn't having any issues with the language and I was totally caught up in the story. It wasn't until I had about 100 pages to go that I noticed there is a glossary in the back of the book. I felt so dumb and I do think it would have enhanced my reading experience had I used the glossary from the start.
GALWAY BAY is based on the life of Mary Pat Kelly's great-great-grandmother, Honora Kelly. I love that she wrote this entire novel based on some stories about her great-great-grandmother. I can't imagine how fascinating the entire process of writing this book would have been for her. She not only learned about Ireland's history and the beginnings of Chicago, but she also got to "know" her relatives. You can read more about what an honor it was for her to write this book here; and Ms. Kelly has also written a letter which explains some of the the things she discovered about her ancestors while researching this novel. If you still want to learn more about Ms. Kelly, check out her blog.
This book covers the life of Honora Kelly from the time she was a teenager until she was an older woman. She is a wonderful character that captured my heart from the very start; and I won't easily forget her. She was an incredibly loyal wife and mother (and grandmother) and was definitely the force behind her entire family. While she did eventually come to America because it was the best for her family, she still told all the old Irish folk stories and lore that she had learned from her grandmother. I thought these stories were a terrific addition to this book because I wasn't familiar with any of them. I also appreciated how the author wrote about the beginnings of Chicago, the fight for Ireland's freedom, and even some events in the Civil War. This book was an amazing blend of fiction and history -- there really is something for every reader in this novel.
Honora Kelly, as was her sister Maire, were without a doubt survivors and an inspiration to women everywhere. I am mind boggled by the hardships they endured throughout their lives. Even though my family isn't of Irish descent, I still related to the characters in GALWAY BAY and was touched by their plight. My relatives came over with nothing from Germany, Poland and Italy to make a home here and find a better place for their families. I think this novel speaks to people everywhere whose ancestors took humongous risks and immigrated to the United States.
I am just thrilled that Ms. Kelly is going to be interviewed today (March 17th) at 11:00 a.m. EST on Blog Talk Radio. Based on her bio, Ms. Kelly sounds very interesting. I was so impressed with not only her ability to tell a wonderful story, but also the amount of research she conducted to write this novel. I can't wait to hear her talk about her family and their Irish traditions; and I'm very anxious to learn more about what inspired her to write their story.
I highly recommend GALWAY BAY for book clubs. The only issue would be the length of the book (over 550 pages); however, it is well worth the extra time you'd spend on it. There is a reading guide in the back of the book that has some excellent discussion questions. There are so many wonderful topics such as family relationships, surviving hardships, endurance, love, religion, adapting to new environments, customs and traditions, etc. You could talk about this book for hours. And if you really want to make your meeting special, this is the perfect book to discuss over a variety of Irish foods and drinks!
Check out these other blogs participating in the GALWAY BAY tour:
Are you feeling lucky? I have three copies of GALWAY BAY to share with you. To get one entry, leave me a comment with your e-mail address telling me why you want to read this book. To double or even triple your chances, blog about this giveaway with a link back to this post and/or tweet about it! The contest will be open until Tuesday, March 31st at 11:59 p.m EST. I will announce the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and/or Canada mailing addresses only.
A huge thanks goes out to Miriam from Hachette Book Group for allowing me to partipate in this book blog tour!