Synopses & Reviews
The Civil War is ending. Eighteen years after the Irish famine-ship Star of the Sea
docked at New York, a daughter of its journey, Eliza Duane Mooney, sets out on foot from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, crossing a ravaged continent on a quest. Eliza is searching for a young boy she has not seen in four years, one of the hundred thousand children drawn into the war. His fate has been mysterious and will prove extraordinary.
It is a walk that will have consequences for many seemingly unconnected survivors: the stunning intellectual Lucia-Cruz McLelland, who deserts New York City to cast her fate with mercurial hero James Con O'Keeffe -- convict, revolutionary, governor of the desolate Western township of Redemption Falls; rebel guerilla Cole McLaurenson, who fuels his own gruesome Westward mission with the blind rage of an outlaw; runaway slave Elizabeth Longstreet, who turns resentment into grace in a Western wilderness where nothing is as it seems.
O'Keeffe's career has seen astonishing highs and lows. Condemned to death in 1848 for plotting an insurrection against British rule in Ireland, his sentence was commuted to life transportation to Van Diemen's Land, Tasmania. From there he escaped, abandoning a woman he loved, and was shipwrecked in the Pacific before making his way to the teeming city of New York. A spellbinding orator, he has been hailed a hero by Irish New Yorkers, refugees from the famine that has ravaged their homeland. His public appearances are thronged to the rafters and his story has brought him fame. He has married the daughter of a wealthy Manhattan family, but their marriage is haunted by a past full of secrets. The terrors of Civil War have shaken his every belief. Now alone in the west, he yearns for new beginnings.
Redemption Falls is a Dickensian tale of war and forgiveness, of strangers in a strange land, of love put to the ultimate test. Packed with music, balladry, poetry, and storytelling, this is "a vivid mosaic of a vast country driven wild by war" (Irish Independent), containing "moments of sustained brilliance which in psychological truth and realism make Daniel Defoe look like a literary amateur" (Sunday Tribune). With this riveting historical novel of urgent contemporary resonance, the author of the bestselling Star of the Sea now brings us a modern masterpiece.
"'Irish author O'Connor (Star of the Sea) delivers a highly stylized post Civil War period pastiche centered on Redemption Falls, a tumultuous frontier town in the Mountain Territory (presumably in present day Utah or Montana). Told through the posters, correspondence, poems/songs, newspaper articles and interview transcripts collected in the early 20th century by a university professor (and nephew of one of the book's prominent characters), the narrative follows acting governor James Con O'Keeffe as he feuds with his ravishing wife, Lucia-Cruz McLelland, about the mute 12-year-old drummer boy Con takes in and wants to adopt. The boy, Jeddo Mooney, is in a bad way and unaware that his tenacious older sister, Eliza Duane Mooney, is hiking from war-ravaged Louisiana to find him. (Her journey is its own mini-epic.) Con's past as an English criminal who barely escaped the noose and his behavior as an American politician demonstrate his noble but flawed character, while a chorus of minor voices add texture to a narrative already rich with a medley of languages, dialects and clashing cultural mores. The novel is complex, ambitious and at times difficult (many characters are uneducated, and their journals and letters prove to be occasionally impenetrable). O'Connor succeeds as a ventriloquist who brings to life a wide cross-section of Americana.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Redemption Falls is a gem. It's a glorious book, enormous, virtuoso, and brave. Its scope is wide -- love, death, war, belonging -- and yet its gaze is intimate. At its heart is the story of a woman who wants to return to the only country she has -- her family. The language is at turns bawdy, ancient, poetic, grand, and funny. One can't dismiss the genius that's involved in being able to tell such necessary stories in a time of war and still be able to beat back all the clichés. The minute I finished the book I wanted to start reading it all over again." Colum McCann, author of Dancer (Irish Novel of the Year 2005) and Zoli
"This book took my breath away. If you're interested at all in the American Civil War, Irish participation in same, love, the expansion of the West, you'll delight in this novel. It is panoramic, yet dense and delicious in detail. It is written gloriously, as if Mr O'Connor toiled at some mighty cathedral organ containing the whole of the English language with its Irish and American flavourings. This is a brave book and only a brave heart could have written it." Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
"A huge achievement, as deep as it is wide, this is a book like no other of these times -- a panorama of violence, vigor, and tragic love set among people devastated by the American Civil War, brilliantly recounted in the multiple tones of their voices, writings, and songs, and realized with an empathy both impressive and extraordinarily moving." Nuala O'Faolain, author of Are You Somebody? and Almost There
"A superb achievement." The Irish Times
"Sensational...Hypnotically effective...Gone With the Wind rewritten by a Dublin-born apprentice to Charles Dickens." Brian Lynch, Irish Independent
"A major work of modern fiction from an astoundingly accomplished writer." -- The Guardian
"O'Connor's piecemeal style of storytelling is both quaint...and appropriate to the chaotic atmosphere surrounding his characters. It also gives the novel the semblance of real history while highlighting our inability to create a full picture of the past." Seattle Times
"Beautifully written." Library Journal
"Although Irish immigrant participation in the Civil War is a central theme, O'Connor also shows the rich diversity of a country torn by civil conflict." Booklist
"This book took my breath away."--Frank McCourt
About the Author
Joseph O'Connor has written thirteen books, most recently the novel Star of the Sea, which sold 750,000 copies in Britain alone. His work has been published in thirty languages, and he also writes for the stage and screen.
Reading Group Guide
1. In the author's note, Joseph O'Connor explains "the book is structured around the absences of all its central characters precisely at the moments when their presences would save everything." How does this apply to each of the novel's main characters -- Eliza Duane Mooney, Jeremiah Mooney, Lucia-Cruz McLelland, James Con O'Keeffe, Cole McLaurenson, and Elizabeth Longstreet?
2. The novel includes posters, poems, letters, newspaper clippings, songs, transcripts, and other items that relate to the characters or the plot. How did these devices enhance the overall story? Were there any items that confused you? If so, which ones? What other writers use this technique in their work?
3. "She is walking to stand still, not to travel into a story" (page 6). What is Eliza moving toward; what is she walking away from? Discuss her quest -- what does her journey symbolize and how is it crucial to the novel's theme?
4. "I have known brave men. I have wished to be one of them. But conscience makes a coward of us all" (page 123). Discuss courage vs. conscience in war. How is this struggled reflected in Redemption Falls?
5. "'I loved you,' Lucia writes, 'before ever your hand touched me, before ever I saw you or heard spoken your name" (page 148). Why do Lucia and O'Keeffe stay together? What makes their relationship so tumultuous? How does the presence of Jeremiah Mooney affect their marriage?
6. "I never once did kill no man that didn't need to die" (page 209). What is Cole McLaurenson's mission and what fuels it?" Does this justify his actions?
7. "It is a horrible thing to own -- to be owned by -- a secret, and to walk about with it corroding your spirit as you go" (page 262). What is Lucia's secret? What secrets own the other main characters of the novel?
8. What is Elizabeth Longstreet's role in this novel? Describe her relationships with Lucia, O'Keefe, and Jeremiah.
9. "My collection includes forgeries" (page 443). How did this statement affect you? Do you think it is a fair technique, reminding the reader that history can contain lies? Did you have your suspicions while reading this novel? What does this say about how our history is told?
10. How are all the main characters linked together in Redemption Falls? When did the connection become apparent to you? Would any of the individual stories stand alone as a novel or are the themes of each of their stories dependent on the other characters' perspectives?
11. Does Redemption Falls have anything to say about America's subsequent history? Does it inform our understanding of the United States in our own era?
12. A fun question! If James O'Keeffe, Lucia McLelland, Allen Winterton, and Elizabeth Longstreet were alive today, for which American political parties or candidates do you think they would vote? And why? What do you think they would like and dislike about our own world?
1. Go to battle: Take your bookclub to a Civil War battleground site. (Go to www.civilwar.org/travelandevents/t_makeyourowntour.htm to find one in your area.)
2. Contribute to the professor's collection: Write a poem about the fates of the characters of Redemption Falls.
3. Celebrate the Irish: Take your book club to an Irish event. (To find one in your area, go to www.saintpatricksdayparade.com/Festival/irish_festivals.htm.)