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  • "What makes a criminal of a man..."

    nce again, an author I have not read before but I am aware Sebastian Barry has won awards and is the current Laureate for Irish Fiction, so my expectations were high. Now, I know awards are subjective and one person’s winning author can be another person’s “avoid at all costs” author so I began reading The Thousand Moons with an open mind. “What does it mean when another people judge you to be worth so little you were only to be killed?” This is a tale set in the aftermath of the American civil war and exposes the everyday prejudice and injustice which was commonplace in the life of Winona, whose people, the Lakota, have been massacred during the war. Her understanding and stoic acceptance of the way Native Americans and freed slaves are treated makes her seem a timid, compliant girl, but her response to a violent incident shows her to be determined, steadfast and afraid of nothing. Perhaps if we have little to lose, losing the little we have holds no fear. This is a beautiful book narrated by Winona. Through her words A Thousand Moons tells how love for another human being and more importantly, being loved, can empower and save. “That I had souls that loved me and hearts that watched over me was a truth self-evident to hold.” It is a story told with pathos and humanity set in a time of great inhumanity. Barry’s writing is moving, using Winona’s unorthodox style of speaking and choice of words to great effect. It is poetic, lyrical, at times brutal though never coarse, but always with a sense of honesty and openness. The language and descriptions portray a personal connection to all things around her; the trees, the animals, the people, a knife, a rifle… The wisdom in this book is everything. I loved it, every word of it. “What makes a criminal of a man is just one thing. Choosing, choosing, to do the wrong thing. See the right thing, but choose the wrong.” Something to bear in mind always. I shall be reading more of Mr Barry.

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  • Another superlative read.

    “If I say that here following are the real events, you will remember that they are described at a great distance from the time of their happening. And that there is no one to agree to or challenge my account, now. Some of it I am inclined to challenge myself, because I say to myself, could that really have happened, and did I really do that? But we only have one path across the mire of remembrance in general.” A Thousand Moons is the eighth novel by award-winning Irish author, Sebastian Barry, and is the sequel to Days Without End. Later in life, the Lakota woman that Thomas McNulty renamed Winona because he couldn’t pronounce her own name (Ojinjintka) looks back on certain events of the mid-1870s: what occurred after Thomas’s return from serving time at Fort Leavenworth. Her disclaimer: “It could be I am talking about things that occurred in Henry County, Tennessee in 1873 or 4, but I have never been so faithful on dates. And if they did occur, there was no true account of them at the time. There were bare facts, and a body, and then there were the real events that no one knew.” At about seventeen years of age, gainfully employed by the lawyer Briscoe, engaged to be married to Jas Janski, Winona Cole is assaulted after being plied with whiskey. It might be the nineteenth-Century version of date-rape, but her memory is blank, just like when her family were massacred by the army. She can’t say who her attacker was. As much as her “family”, Thomas, John Cole, Lige Magan and freed slaves Rosalee and Tennyson Bouguereau, want justice, Winona understands that it can’t be had through the law: assault of an Indian is not considered a crime. After all: “‘An Indian ain’t a citizen and the law don’t apply in the same way,’ said the lawyer Briscoe.” While the sheriff warns them off taking their own action, Jas Janksi’s words subsequently see Tennyson badly beaten, and Winona decides she must fight her own battles. And in the midst of one of those, she meets (at the end of a gun) and falls in love with Peg, a Chickasaw girl. But will that help her when she’s standing trial for murder? Winona is under no illusion about her precarious position in society: “Whitemen in the main just see slaves and Indians. They don’t see the single souls. How all are emperors to those that love them” and “We were nothing to them. I think now of the great value we put on what we were and I wonder what does it mean when another people judge you to be worth so little you were only to be killed? How our pride in everything was crushed so small it disappeared until it was just specks of things floating away on the wind” succinctly illustrate this. No doubt because of her own history, Winona can also see from the perspective of the disenfranchised Rebel soldiers, despite their Night Raider activities against Union supporters. It’s a talented male author who can make the voice of a 19th Century Lakota orphan sound authentic, but of course, that describes Sebastian Barry perfectly. He is especially gifted at conveying the love between the members of this makeshift family: “I had the wound of being a lost child. Thing was it was they that healed me, Thomas McNulty and John Cole. They had done their damnedest I guess. So they both gave me the wound and healed it, which is a hard fact in its way” and “Just because John Cole raised me up as something so gold, he said, that the sun itself was jealous of me, didn’t mean anyone else in the wide world thought that” and “John Cole, the keel of my boat. Thomas the oars and the sails” are examples. All Barry’s descriptive prose is, of course, exquisite: “A high cold sky was speckled with stray blues and greys like a bird’s egg. But a reluctant sunlight was trying to measure the height of the sky with long thin veins.” “I could feel myself melting away. I thought I was like water but I had no cup to hold me. How small I felt. World didn’t care, I knew that.” Another superlative read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Faber and Faber.

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