Monday, May 11, 2020


SEBASTIAN Barry gives life, it really is as simple as that. In using his words, he fleshes out the hollow faces from history and he makes their lives something that continue to matter.

His decision to revisit the characters from Days Without End was a brave one, as oftentimes the public think they want something, but the reality of actually receiving it is the equivalent of a literary lead balloon.

No such fears needed here as Barry, the Laureate for Irish Fiction, gives us Winona. This book is her story.

In 1870’s Tennessee, Winona, an Indian girl is raped, but because by law Indians are not classed as people, there is nothing to protect her or punish the wicked.

The aftermath of the American Civil War has allowed the landscape to restore itself, somewhat shakily, yet the screams and the injustices are etched into the very walls.

People do not forget, and old battles which Winona watched when she was a child, when her name was Ojinjintka have returned, bringing echoes of the old anger and the old days.

Winona’s loved ones, John Cole and Thomas McNulty shape her into a child with an inexhaustible capacity for love and forgiveness. Her moral compass is strong as a result of their upbringing and she deeply feels the wrongs committed against her family.

The land begins to echo with the shouts of midnight burnings and the gunshots as they echo close to home.

The continuation of the story of Thomas and John, from Days Without End was masterfully done, without repeating any narrative in a tired way. This is Winona’s story, and as readers we lap up the pages and pages of all-encompassing horror and love.

I confess to enjoying A Thousand Moons much more than I enjoyed Days Without End. I connected more completely with the characters and I felt tremendously helpless and uncomfortable on many occasions, which is a benchmark of fine writing.

Winona cut her hair and bound her breasts to suppress the signs of femininity and sexuality. With a gun, she took off across the land in a cloud of dust to right wrongs.

Her strength, her awareness of her fragile vulnerability and her fierce love  course through her character fuelling the anger we share at the injustices and the disregard for humanity.

Barry offers us love. He offers us the pain of loss in love, and he offers us no comfort when that love is tested. It is an extraordinary, demanding and highly accomplished piece of work, proving yet again, that Sebastian Barry is one of Ireland’s finest writers.

Dymphna Nugent blogs at The Book Nook on Facebook

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