Friday, June 30, 2017

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy

Going on a trip this summer?  May the Road Rise Up to Meet You.  I do wish this traditional Irish blessing for you, but I also recommend taking along an audio version (downloadable or book on CD) of Peter Troy’s book by that name.  Hearing the novel in the voices of four unique narrators with authentic accents adds to the sense that we get to know Mary, Ethan, Micah, and Marcella from the inside out.  Their journeys through mid-nineteenth-century Ireland, North Carolina, Virginia, and New York are winding odysseys full of dangers and opportunities. 

Gertie cares for Mary after her parents are gone.  It’s hard for Mary to imagine the beauty of Gertie’s embroidery when she watches her at work and can see only the back, with its mishmash of knots, colors, even different kinds of thread.  As Mary must make her way forward, it seems that everything is a mishmash and seeing the big picture of what’s important just gets harder.  Ethan’s story begins in Ireland during "the hunger," when he and his sister divert their family by acting out scenes from a meager library of classical literature discarded from the manor house.  It’s not every Irish immigrant to the U.S. in the 1840’s who carries Paradise Lost and The Odyssey along—and is inspired by them to rise above obstacles ranging from disappointing to tragic.  Micah’s mother, educated by a previous master, must pretend not to know how to read, but she teaches Micah in secret; his father trains him as a carpenter.  No knowledge can protect Micah from the dangers of the slave trade, but his skills and his literacy eventually become his bridge to a full life. 

We meet these three as young teens; Marcella is closer to 20, but seems far older than her years.  The experience of her abuela causes her also to be far ahead of her time in her strong desire to wrest control of her life from her traditional Spanish immigrant parents and become an abolitionist.  As the threads of all these stories intertwine, Ethan, Mary, Marcella, and Micah, along with the nation, are engulfed by the Civil War.

Peter Troy infuses humor, pathos, and reality into the dramatic changes and extremes of society in the historical period of May the Road Rise Up to Meet You.  If you like character-driven historical fiction, try this book.  If, like me, you are drawn to stories of the Celtic countries and of the Civil War, this is a rare meeting of the two.  The strong Scottish influence in the American South, specifically  Appalachia, during the Revolutionary era is constructed from the ground up in the later books of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.

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