Reviewed by: Lale Eskicioglu firstname.lastname@example.org Date: 24 August 2001
I read Away four years ago when I was living in Ottawa. I mention that I was living in Ottawa, because the story, which starts in Ireland just before the potato famine, is tied at the end to a violent and curious historical event that took place in one of Ottawa's oldest and most popular streets, The Sparks Street, in 1868.
I have always been fascinated by the famine in Ireland and the subsequent migration of the Irish to the new world. But I never expected to read such a poetic story built around the potato blight. Jane Urquhart begins her story with Mary, the not-very-this-worldly, almost surreal heroine and the incredibly vivid imagery. Then comes the shock and devastation of the famine.
The novel alternates between fact and fantasy. There are the two eccentric land-owner brothers (whose exploits being only one of the many bizarre and yet delightful side-stories) who change the course of the life of Mary and her family. Once the novel reaches Canada, we see more extraordinary happenings. Mary follows her heart to the water, leaving her children behind; Eileen with her red hair that makes her head look as if its on fire, and her older brother the practical and the reasonable, his father's son.
Then there is the sailor's bar owned by twin captains. And how about moving the bar across the great lake and turning it into a home?
Montreal is so badly flooded that residents are obliged to use boats and sandals for transportation.
There is the boyfriend who will dance to change Canadian politics.
And finally, the Sparks Street event.
Sparks Street in 1866. Ottawa's first street to be paved, was then famous for its deep and sticky mud. Pigs were a part of the scenery.
(Photo from The Ottawa Citizen, August 24, 2001)
Sparks Street in 1909
(Photo from the website www.nccwatch.org)
Sparks Street today
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