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A long long Way Gone Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

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Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new novel about divided loyalties and the realities of war.In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family, and the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Once there, he encounters a horror of violence and Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new novel about divided loyalties and the realities of war.In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family, and the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Once there, he encounters a horror of violence and gore he could not have imagined and sustains his spirit with only the words on the pages from home and the camaraderie of the mud-covered Irish boys who fight and die by his side.  Dimly aware of the political tensions that have grown in Ireland in his absence, Willie returns on leave to find a world split and ravaged by forces closer to home. Despite the comfort he finds with his family, he knows he must rejoin his regiment and fight until the end. With grace and power, Sebastian Barry vividly renders Willie’s personal struggle as well as the overwhelming consequences of war.


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Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new novel about divided loyalties and the realities of war.In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family, and the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Once there, he encounters a horror of violence and Irish author and playwright Sebastian Barry has created a powerful new novel about divided loyalties and the realities of war.In 1914, Willie Dunne, barely eighteen years old, leaves behind Dublin, his family, and the girl he plans to marry in order to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Once there, he encounters a horror of violence and gore he could not have imagined and sustains his spirit with only the words on the pages from home and the camaraderie of the mud-covered Irish boys who fight and die by his side.  Dimly aware of the political tensions that have grown in Ireland in his absence, Willie returns on leave to find a world split and ravaged by forces closer to home. Despite the comfort he finds with his family, he knows he must rejoin his regiment and fight until the end. With grace and power, Sebastian Barry vividly renders Willie’s personal struggle as well as the overwhelming consequences of war.

30 review for A long long Way Gone Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Oh, Willie Dunn, a painfully earnest young man off to the trenches. He loves his family, his girl, and his comrades at that tender age when life is all first times. The Algerians were just over to his right. The Algerians sang fine, strange songs most of the day, and at night now he could hear them laughing and talking in a sort of endless excitement. The trench was soon looking fairly smart. "That's fucking better now', said the sergeant-major religiously. They did all that and then lurked in th Oh, Willie Dunn, a painfully earnest young man off to the trenches. He loves his family, his girl, and his comrades at that tender age when life is all first times. The Algerians were just over to his right. The Algerians sang fine, strange songs most of the day, and at night now he could hear them laughing and talking in a sort of endless excitement. The trench was soon looking fairly smart. "That's fucking better now', said the sergeant-major religiously. They did all that and then lurked in the perfected trench, getting muggy like old boxers. The poor human mind played queer tricks, and you could forget even your name betimes, and even the point of being there, aside enduring the unstoppable blather of the guns. What day oftentimes it was, Willie would forget. Then a different day arrived. Everyone had had a lash of tea, and there was a lot of farting going on after the big yellow beans that had come up around twelve. As usual after they had eaten, they were beginning to look at each other and think this St Julian wasn't the worst place they'd been in. It was the essential illusion bestowed on them by full stomachs. A breeze had pushed through the tall grasses all day. There was a yellow flower everywhere with a hundred tiny blooms on it. The caterpillars loved them. There were millions of caterpillars, the same yellow as the flowers. It was a yellow world. Captain Pasley was in his new dugout writing his forms. Every last thing that came in and every last thing that went out was accounted for. Item and bodies. Captain Pasley, of course, was obliged to read all the letters the men sent home, and he did, word for blessed word. He thought it might break a man's heart to read them sometimes; there was something awfully sad about some of the soldiers' letters. They didn't mean to make them sad, which gave their efforts to be manly and cheerful a melancholy tinge. But it had to be faced. God help them, they were funny enough efforts sometimes. Some men wrote a letter as formal as a bishop, some tried to write the inside of their heads, like that young Willie Dunne. It was a curiosity. The yellow cloud was noticed first by Christy Moran because he was standing on the fire-step with his less than handy mirror arrangement. looking out across the quiet battlefield. That little breeze had freshened and it blew now against the ratty hair that dropped out of Christy Moran's hat here and there. So the breeze was more of a wind and was blowing full on against Christy's hat and mirror, but it was nothing remarkable. What was remarkable was the strange yellow-tinged cloud that had just appeared from nowhere like a sea fog. But not like a fog really; he knew what a flaming fog looked like, for God's sake, being born and bred near the sea in fucking Kingstown. He watched for a few seconds in his mirror, straining to see and straining to understand. It was about four o'clock, and all as peaceful as anything. Not even the guns were firing now. The caterpillars foamed on the yellow flowers. And the grass died in the path of the cloud. That was only Christy Moran's impression maybe; he hoiked down the mirror a moment and wiped it clean with his cleanish sleeve. Back up it went. The cloud didn't look too deep but it was as wide as the eye could see. Christy Moran was absolutely certain now he could see figures moving in the yellow smoke. It must be some sort of way of hiding the advancing men, he was thinking, some new-fashioned piece of warfare.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Violet wells

    This novel about the experiences of an Irish private during WW1 didn’t really engage me until about the half way point when it did massively improve. Firstly, I felt the author bluffed his way a bit through WW1 – sacrificing detail to abstractions, which meant I never quite felt myself in the boots of a private on a WW1 battlefield. And the grandiose biblical (Hemingwayesque) prose style dwarfed the characters for me, turned them into puppets which maybe was clever as what else were all those yo This novel about the experiences of an Irish private during WW1 didn’t really engage me until about the half way point when it did massively improve. Firstly, I felt the author bluffed his way a bit through WW1 – sacrificing detail to abstractions, which meant I never quite felt myself in the boots of a private on a WW1 battlefield. And the grandiose biblical (Hemingwayesque) prose style dwarfed the characters for me, turned them into puppets which maybe was clever as what else were all those young men who lost their lives in that daft war? Like Days without End the characters were for me the weakest part of the novel. Again, Barry chooses as his focus a good-natured blank canvas of a character, Willie; again, he tends to idealise and sentimentalise relationships. That said, in the second part of the novel, I did begin to warm to Willie’s relationships with his male mentors – his father, his commanding officer, his Sergeant Major and Father Buckley, the chaplain. He also has a sweetheart who inflicts on him a kind of Old Testament punishment for a misdemeanor which shows brilliantly the gulf between her domestic reality and his nightmare frontline reality. As a backdrop, the novel also dramatises the Irish rising for Home Rule. This was nicely done. However, I’m not sure it really added anything to my understanding of WW1 or the Irish problem. Essentially, it’s a story about one young man’s loyalties and loves with a thunderous historical backdrop – rather like Days Without End in other words. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’ll live long in my memory.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dem

    A long long way written by Sebastian Barry was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and tells an amazing and extremely well written story. This is the third novel I have read by Barry and have to say he is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. This is the story of Willie Dunne who at the age of eighteen is too short to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a policeman in Dublin but who is old enough to volunteer and fight for England in World War 1. ,and so Willie leaves behind A long long way written by Sebastian Barry was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and tells an amazing and extremely well written story. This is the third novel I have read by Barry and have to say he is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. This is the story of Willie Dunne who at the age of eighteen is too short to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a policeman in Dublin but who is old enough to volunteer and fight for England in World War 1. ,and so Willie leaves behind Dublin, his family and the girl he plans to marry to enlist in the allied forces in the Great War, partly to prove himself a man and please his father. At the time of the first world war there was an understanding among the Irish people that Ireland would gain Home Rule within the coming few years and young men like Willie Dunne took up the cause to fight for King, Country and Empire against the Germans in the hope that this would further their cause while another section of Irish refused to fight for England and they instead took up Arms in the Rising of 1916 in Dublin to gain Irish freedom. While Willie Dunne and the Dublin Fusiliers suffer abroad, Dublin City is suffering during the Easter Rising and men like Willie Dunne and his comrades are thought of and regarded as traitors by their fellow countrymen. Having recently visited Kilmainham Gaol where the executions in May 1916 of fourteen of the leaders of the failed 1916 Easter Rising took place and having the tour information and pictures of the executed men fresh in my head I was emotionally and factually ready for a novel of this depth. This is a tough read and certainly not for the faint hearted so if you get put off by horrific scenes of war and vulgar and brutal happenings then this is not the novel for you but this certainly is account of war that that takes you right into the trenches with young Willie Dunne and his comrades and you experience a teensy tiny bit of their fear and their anguish and the squalor and the camaraderie of the men who both fight and die side by side. A 5 star rating for me and a book that will stay with me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cathrine ☯️

    5★ A sorrowful, gut-wrenching tale of the horrors of WWI and the boys who went off to fight for “King and Country” hoping to come into their “bloody manhood at last.” The author expertly leads the reader through gruesome warfare in the trenches with beautiful prose and likable but doomed characters. The dawn and horror of chemical warfare makes its deadly debut: “The gas boiled in like a familiar ogre. With the same stately gracelessness it rolled to the edge of parapet and then like the heads of 5★ A sorrowful, gut-wrenching tale of the horrors of WWI and the boys who went off to fight for “King and Country” hoping to come into their “bloody manhood at last.” The author expertly leads the reader through gruesome warfare in the trenches with beautiful prose and likable but doomed characters. The dawn and horror of chemical warfare makes its deadly debut: “The gas boiled in like a familiar ogre. With the same stately gracelessness it rolled to the edge of parapet and then like the heads of a many-headed creature it toppled gently forward and sank down to join the waiting men . . . The evil gas lay sown in the trench like a bedspread, and as more gas came over it filled the trench to the brim and passed on then its ghostly hordes to the support lines and the reserve lines, ambitious for choice murders.” That’s just the beginning as Barry will not spare the reader the horror that comes and I do not use that word lightly. Young boys from Ireland are fighting only to learn that at the same time others back home are battling for Home Rule during the Easter Rising. They will arrive home on leave only to be thought traitors worth killing by some and then return to the front for more killing of their own. Deserving of 5 stars but the subject matter and inevitable outcome sucked the life right out of my soul. Based on my emotional state it rates the 1 star—I did not like it but the writing, the writing, the writing. I have never read a better book on the devastation of war and I never want to read another one like it—ever. Afterwards: Imagine . . . if they had a war and no-one showed up? It just confounds me how many generations of young men have been willing to forfeit their precious lives and others continue to manufacture and use such malevolent weapons to this day. Unbelievably I saw a promotional video Men of War - MUSTARD GAS for online gaming. Perhaps guys like the one who commented “Good job! Can you make a poison-thrower, just like the flame-thrower? That would be very cool” should read this book. #gladofmywomanhood #bookslikethisbreakmyheart

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Certain mental images can be a little too vivid. When it comes to WW1, the permamuck of the trenches, the seared throats from deadly gases, and the pants-soiling horror of seeing a comrade’s detached body parts inches away are associations powerful enough to shut us down. There’s only so far we can extend our comprehension in the face of palpable terror. So how does a good author milk it a little more, getting us past the autonomic desensitization and back into the boots of shared experience? In Certain mental images can be a little too vivid. When it comes to WW1, the permamuck of the trenches, the seared throats from deadly gases, and the pants-soiling horror of seeing a comrade’s detached body parts inches away are associations powerful enough to shut us down. There’s only so far we can extend our comprehension in the face of palpable terror. So how does a good author milk it a little more, getting us past the autonomic desensitization and back into the boots of shared experience? In Sebastian Barry’s case he creates a character so earnest and eager to please that he seems custom-built as an empathy magnet. The fully realized inner life of Willie Dunne (the 18-year-old central figure, a Dubliner gone off to fight England’s war) combined with a fascinating account of the politics of Irish Home Rule made for quite a story. It was beautifully written, too. Barry deserved his acclaim, short-listed for a Booker. Willie loved and respected his father, a policeman and loyal supporter of the crown. At 5’6” tall, Willie was not allowed to join his 6’6” da in the police force (Sir Francis Galton’s regression-to-the-mean effect overshot in this case). Aching for respect, Willie signed up to fight the Germans in the name of the King. The word was that Irish Home Rule would be granted after these volunteers fought in common cause alongside the English. Willie also had to leave his girlfriend behind along with his youthful innocence. It didn’t take long after the grand send-off to realize what we all already knew: war sucks. Barry’s descriptions were realistic and mortifying. We’re made to care about the men even more for getting to know them as people – real, sentient beings with personalities and aspirations. A scene that really got to me was one where some middle-ranking, tough-as-nails guy named Christy, seemingly against type, had a soft spot for music. He was temporarily at peace with the world when Willie sang Ave Maria. Willie was given furlough for the Easter holiday. It was a short, happy stay, but there was a massive confusion just as he was reporting back – gunshots, and not ones coming from Germans. It was the Easter Rising of 1916 where Irishmen who wanted Home Rule faster and more assuredly than England would likely deliver rose up against them. Willie and his fellow soldiers were asked to quell the uprising. Our politically naïve protagonist had his eyes opened. The remainder of the book had new conflicts to add to a mix that already seemed saturated with them. Willie’s ambivalence about the English cause didn’t set well with his father. Sentiment in Ireland had swung against the Dublin Fusiliers that Willie felt duty-bound to stick with to the end. Nor did the English command give them much respect. (I wanted to tell a certain Major Stokes to stick it in his hole when he said, “What, you Irish couldn’t stand a little gas?”) And as if that wasn’t enough, our young hero had girl troubles, too. The worst part of it all was how little of it Willie deserved. He was such a good kid. Stories like this need to end the way authors want them to – with readers reading their books to find out, not with overzealous reviewers spilling the beans. The only thing I’ll add is that an emotional involvement on the reader’s part is likely. On a personal note, my wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary with a trip to Ireland. The love of literature there, and of words in general (even away from the pubs) was one of the great things about the place. They enjoy their history, too, with plenty of it around to engage them. We learned a lot about the Easter Rising visiting the General Post Office where much of the rebellion took place. Later we saw Kilmainham Gaol where many of the rebel leaders were imprisoned and in some cases executed. The gaol has been featured in several films including The Italian Job (the original one), Michael Collins, and In the Name of the Father. U2 also filmed a video there, with Bono looking very much like a man of the 80s. 4.5 stars

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cheri

    4.5 Stars ”He was born in the dying days. It was the withering end of 1896. He was called William after the long-dead Orange King, because his father took an interest in such distant matters.” ”He was a little baby and would be always a little boy. He was like the thin upper arm of a beggar with a few meager bones shot through him, provisional and bare. When he broke from his mother he made a mewling sound like a wounded cat, over and over. That was the night of a storm that would not be a 4.5 Stars ”He was born in the dying days. It was the withering end of 1896. He was called William after the long-dead Orange King, because his father took an interest in such distant matters.” ”He was a little baby and would be always a little boy. He was like the thin upper arm of a beggar with a few meager bones shot through him, provisional and bare. When he broke from his mother he made a mewling sound like a wounded cat, over and over. That was the night of a storm that would not be a famous storm. But, for all that, it rattled the last leaves out of the regal oaks in the old pleasure gardens behind the hospital, and it drove the wet harvest along the gutters and into the gaping drains and down into the unknown avenues of the great sewers. The blood of births was sluiced down there too, and all the many liquids of humanity, but the salt sea at Ringsend took everything equally.” And as time passes, William Dunne is among all those boys of Europe born in those time the ones whose fate was written in a ferocious chapter of the book of life. ”Those millions of mothers and their million gallons of mother’s milk, millions of instances of small-talk and baby-talk, beatings and kisses, ganseys and shoes, piled up in history in great ruined heaps, with a loud and broken music, human stories told for nothing, for ashes, for death’s amusement, flung on the mighty scrapheap of souls, all those million boys in all their humours to be milled by the mill-stones of a coming war.” His father was a policeman, and he had hoped that Willie would grow to be tall enough to follow in his footsteps, which would not come to pass, a crushing disappointment to his father. Willie, then twelve, would lose his mother that same year, the year his youngest sister was born. In the years that followed the memory of his mother was like a dark song that made him cry in his bed alone, strong though he was and all of sixteen. This story which follows Willie, along with too many other young Irish men – boys, really – as they go off to fight with the British army in World War I, and as that April rolls around, a war begins at home during Easter Week of 1916 - The Easter Rising. ”Between your own countrymen deriding you for being in the army, and the army deriding you for your own slaughter, a man didn’t know what to be thinking. A man’s mind could be roaring out in pain of a sort. The fact that the war didn’t make a jot of sense any more hardly came into it. While this story is about the war, the wars on both sides of these waters, Barry’s writing is so poetic, while at the same time bringing the war, in all its gruesome darkness, to light. It’s shared through Willie’s youthful and still pure, somewhat naïve, eyes. So that the war itself, the horror that surrounds, and sometimes destroys, these men - shared through his eyes, is softened. It is war, after all, and there is no escaping the fact that many will not return home, but again, he shares his personal feelings and perspective, which are filled with these men lost to the war. There are also moments where his focus is on Gretta, Willie’s reminiscences of his love for her, of the moments he holds close to his heart, hoping she will write soon, and hoping even more that she will wait for his return. While this didn’t quite live up to Days Without End for me, I loved this story, and loved following Willie’s journey as a young, fairly naïve young man as this begins, through these dark days of war.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    It’s a long way to Tipperary It’s a long way to go. It’s a long way to little Mary To the sweetest girl I know! Goodbye, Piccadilly, Farewell, Leicester Square! It’s a long way to Tipperary, But my heart’s right there. World War I, the Great War as it was then known, has produced some outstanding novels recounting the horrific, mind-numbing, dehumanizing experiences of common soldiers locked in the death grip of trench warfare. In the past year I have read two of those books (Three Day Road by Joseph B It’s a long way to Tipperary It’s a long way to go. It’s a long way to little Mary To the sweetest girl I know! Goodbye, Piccadilly, Farewell, Leicester Square! It’s a long way to Tipperary, But my heart’s right there. World War I, the Great War as it was then known, has produced some outstanding novels recounting the horrific, mind-numbing, dehumanizing experiences of common soldiers locked in the death grip of trench warfare. In the past year I have read two of those books (Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden and Fear by Gabriel Chevallier) and reread another (All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque). These stories are told from the perspective of three different nationalities – Canadian, French, and German, respectively – but they share the common theme of ignoring grand strategy and spending little time on tactics, while devoting most of their attention to the common soldier. And the experiences of the soldiers in the trenches, no matter their nationality, differed very little. True, I had read a great deal about the French and the Germans in that conflict, and not as much about the Canadians, but A Long Long Way was truly a learning experience. I had never given much any thought to the Irish role in the war, and in fact little has been written about it. I knew about the Irish revolt, what came to be called the Easter Rising, against the British in 1916, but I had never stopped to consider the fact that at the same time there were Irish soldiers in the British army fighting for King and Country and Empire. A Long Long Way is the story of those Irish soldiers, particularly through the eyes of Willie Dunne, who joined the army at age seventeen. They were young men who were placed in a no-win situation. Some were devoted loyalists to king and country, while others favored home rule for their land; while both joined the British army to fight the Germans, their long-range goals differed. Unfortunately, the English, on one hand, perceived them all to be potential – or even actual – mutineers while the Irish nationalists on the other hand considered them all to be traitors for serving in the British army. Laura Barber writes in The Guardian: "Willie, and the men like him, went to war not so much to fight against the Germans, but to fight for their country, only to find that the most deadly enemy came from their own side and that the Ireland they had grown up believing in had dissolved behind them ‘like sugar in the rain.’" Like the other three books mentioned earlier, A Long Long Way is a story of horror and heartbreak, with the most graphic description of horrific poison gas attacks that I have ever read in a work of fiction or nonfiction. In other words, like all great war novels, it is an anti-war story. Threatened as we are today by war after war and by the knee jerk, unexamined beliefs that take us there, it is books such as A Long Long Way that can force us to examine not only our own beliefs, but to reflect on the beliefs of those that we choose to lead us. Sebastian Barry was first and foremost a poet and a playwright before becoming a novelist and it shows in his prose: "… good general or bad, everything ended always in the ghastly tally of wrenching deaths. His head was heavy now, sore as a boxer’s, he wanted to have the matter explained to him, he wanted God Himself to come down to where they were talking there, and tell them what could be set against the numberless deaths, to stop their minds inwardly weeping, like cottages without roofs in a filthy rain." ----------------------------------------- "Through the character of Willie Dunne … Barry allows us not so much to imagine the war as to inhabit it, and in doing so, he has created a modern masterpiece." – The Boston Globe "With disarming lyricism, Barry’s novel leads the reader into a hellish no-man’s-land, where the true madness of war can only be felt and understood rather than said." – The Observer

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    The best book I've read in a handful of years. I was moved, beyond words, by the lyrical beauty of the prose in this novel, and by the way it shredded every sentimental thought I'd ever had about the First World War -- the sentimentality of bravery and morality and justice and incorruptibility. Barry's book created fresh wounds within me, and healed them later within the same paragraph, only to create a general ache and heartbreak for an entire generation that was lost. Our young protagonist was The best book I've read in a handful of years. I was moved, beyond words, by the lyrical beauty of the prose in this novel, and by the way it shredded every sentimental thought I'd ever had about the First World War -- the sentimentality of bravery and morality and justice and incorruptibility. Barry's book created fresh wounds within me, and healed them later within the same paragraph, only to create a general ache and heartbreak for an entire generation that was lost. Our young protagonist was born in "the dying days" of an old century, mewling his way into a stormy night that was neither spectacular, nor noteworthy. In these words, Barry presages the manner in which our young man will find his way out of this life. Neither spectacular, nor noteworthy, yet Willie Dunne's death, encapsulates the monstrous expenditure of youth and vigour and potential that all went to hell in the fields of Flanders. Barry has managed, somehow, to put into prose Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires. What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. Within the length of a novel, he has managed to retain every punch to the head, heart, stomach, that the original poem delivers, and still retain the impact of the original. While Barry also manages to explore the percussion beat of the Easter Uprising, and deal handily with the implications of Irish men fighting as English soldiers, the novel nonetheless remains as a universal condemnation of war, and does not sink into partisan politics, for the sake of it. There is always the bigger question looming above the heads of all -- whatever nationality -- why are we here at all? Addendum: While it took me a week to read (unheard of for books I love) it was a book I could neither put down, nor read in one gulp. I resented every minute that I was away from it, and at the same time found myself reading slowly when I did pick it up, savouring every word, pondering every thought, stopping for long pauses between sections, or even paragraphs, to fully appreciate what Barry was saying. An astounding book. It should be as a must-read in army training camps, and in every high school in the world. A simple message, delivered simply and beautifully, with the impact of a sledgehammer.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    It's a long long way to Tipperary, But my heart's right there. In A Long Long Way, Sebastian Barry takes on another little considered, very complicated moment in Irish history, the Irish involvement in World War I. He cuts through the veneer and shows us a war that was, as wars always are, horrible and cruel and costly. And, he shows us the personal cost to the men (dare I say boys) who fought it. Not since reading All Quiet have I felt I was so close to the horrors of one man’s experience of Worl It's a long long way to Tipperary, But my heart's right there. In A Long Long Way, Sebastian Barry takes on another little considered, very complicated moment in Irish history, the Irish involvement in World War I. He cuts through the veneer and shows us a war that was, as wars always are, horrible and cruel and costly. And, he shows us the personal cost to the men (dare I say boys) who fought it. Not since reading All Quiet have I felt I was so close to the horrors of one man’s experience of World War I. However, one war is not enough for Barry, he must tell us of two, for there is another war waging beside the World War that is being fought by so many Irishmen in Belgium and France, and that is the war within Ireland being fought on Irish soil. Willie Dunne is a good Irish boy who joins the British army to do his part in the war against Germany, and finds himself in the middle of the political struggle between those who favor Irish home rule and those who feel a part of and loyal to English rule. Seen as traitors by many of their Irish peers, the men of these Irish brigades are also disparaged by many of the British who command them, adding to the unendurable realities of the war, and making one wonder why any of them would be there or how any returned. Between your own countrymen deriding you for being in the army, and the army deriding you for your own slaughter, a man didn’t know what to be thinking. A man’s mind could be roaring out in pain of a sort. The fact that the war didn’t make a jot of sense any more hardly came into it. Sebastian Barry brings poetry to his writing. He describes the inexplicable in a way that is ominously vivid. There had been no warning barrage and the dense smoke didn’t look too threatening. It was beautiful in a way, the yellow seemed to boil about, and sink into whatever craters it was offered, and then rise again with the march of the main body of smoke. There were still birds singing behind them, but whatever birds had been singing in front of them were silent now. Captain Pasley removed his hat and scratched his balding pate and put the hat back on again. And, he gives us Willie’s young, innocent eyes to see it through. Willie, who has never had a chance to decide what his life should be, who worships the idea of love in the person of Gretta, whose little sister adores him because he is so good to her, and who struggles with how little black and white he finds in his world, how murky the shades of grey. Ah, Sebastian Barry, he tugs at my heart, squeezing until I feel it will burst, and then he sets me down so gently that the tears in my eyes feel like the cleansing water of a mountain stream, the purging of a rank injustice, or perhaps just a memory of home.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    This was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker. I'm certain it will be among my top five reads of 2008. It's the story of a young Irish soldier caught between the warfields of Belgium and the battle raging at home between the royalists and the nationalists. It's the most graphic and revealing treatment of WWI I've encountered- particularly of trench warfare and the horrors of mustard gas. It amazes me that anyone survived and sickens me how hundreds of thousands of young men were simply led to sla This was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker. I'm certain it will be among my top five reads of 2008. It's the story of a young Irish soldier caught between the warfields of Belgium and the battle raging at home between the royalists and the nationalists. It's the most graphic and revealing treatment of WWI I've encountered- particularly of trench warfare and the horrors of mustard gas. It amazes me that anyone survived and sickens me how hundreds of thousands of young men were simply led to slaughter by colluding governments. Despite the grim brutality of the subject, the writing is so lyrical and beautiful, the characters so full of hope and spirit. Portions of it read almost like poetry, yet the language is simple and earthy. I was frustrated by the glimpses of the 1916 Easter Uprising and the conflict that set Irish against Irish- as if the reader already had a tacit understanding of that history and its nuances. I was confused as to who was on which side (in Ireland)- but then again, that was/is the tragedy of the conflict in Ireland- the division of a country was really the division of villages, friends and families. But bottom line- it's an incredible book, devastating and beautiful. I cried at the end, even though I knew what was coming. And I cried for the lives that were lost, and for those who continue to be sacrificed in the name of power, greed and moral certainty. War is inexcusable.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    On completion: I thoroughly loved this book. I finished listening to it and was desperate for more. I re-listened to the last chapters. Then I thought, I simply cannot leave this book! I searched to see what other books Sebastian Barry has written. This is the first of a trilogy followed by first Annie Dunne and then On Canaan's Side. I read what these books were about. The central theme of these books diverge; they are not about WW1. And this is the topic that I want more of. So I checked out Th On completion: I thoroughly loved this book. I finished listening to it and was desperate for more. I re-listened to the last chapters. Then I thought, I simply cannot leave this book! I searched to see what other books Sebastian Barry has written. This is the first of a trilogy followed by first Annie Dunne and then On Canaan's Side. I read what these books were about. The central theme of these books diverge; they are not about WW1. And this is the topic that I want more of. So I checked out The Absolutist and even listened to the narration at Audible. Again I felt let down. John Cormack's narration of "A Long, Long Way" had been superb, The snippet of "The Absolutist" just could not compare. Was it the narrator that I had fallen in love with? I listened to other books narrated by Cormack........but they were not what I wanted to listen to either. And here I sit, feeling desolate and sad, because I want more of the same. I want Cormack's narration and Barry's prose. I don't want to leave the camaraderie of the troops in the trenches of Belgium, near Ypres. Isn't it utterly strange that I do not want to leave the battlefields of WW1?! That is the truth of the matter, strange as it may seem. None of the other books I have read about WW1 have moved me as this has. I believe I understand what that warfare was like. It was horrible. When the war ended, it didn't really end. All who lived through it would never be the same. To understand the war itself you must look further than the blood and bombs and gas and grime and lice and all the physical horror of it. There is still more. There was also what the soldiers shared with each other. This is something very hard to comprehend to those of us who have not fought in wars. This book shows you how the soldiers intimately depended, needed and relied on each other. I am so shaken by the ending that I don't know what to say. I have no complaints. There is nothing I would change about this book. How do I sum up my feelings? This book has beautiful lines, and they are lines filled with meaning, imparting a poignant message. This is a book about WW1 and a book about Ireland's place in that war. Excellent writing by Barry. Excellent narration by Cormack! ****************************** Read with Barbara and Dawn. Here follow links to their reviews so you can follow our discussions: Dawn: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... Barbara: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... My thoughts, as I read, are added below. Through chapter 6, part one: This is excellent. The writing is superb! For me how an author chooses and lines up his words is very important. The Irish dialect and dialogs are spot-on. And I love how horrid stuff is mixed with beauty and camaraderie and humor. All of it seems genuine. The narration, audiobook by John Cormack, has such "oh-so-perfect" Irish!!!! This narrator has to be added to my favorites list, at least for Irish literature. Through part one: I have yet to read a text that so brilliantly describes mustard gas. The first time the yellow fog crept along the ground the soldiers had no idea what it was. Their fear and their instinctive horror engulfs the reader. Then imagine their fear when they know its consequences and it's used again and again and again. This is frightening to read. To the end of part one: Imagine fighting a war for country and family, only to discover that at home your efforts are not appreciated! Originally the Irish went off to war in the belief that Home Rule would follow at the conclusion of the war. But then there broke off a splinter group that opposed any fighting done for the King, the oppressor, he who stood in the way of Home Rule. They wanted guarantees of Home Rule before they would do any fighting for the English king! In Dublin, Irishmen were fighting and killing Irishmen. It became a civil battle between the Irishmen themselves. Those, such as Willie Dunn, fighting and dying in Flanders, were despised. Try and imagine how this would feel! As if the war itself wasn't enough! Barry adds this to the horrors of the trench warfare in Belgium. Yes, we are fighting, but for what? ETA: To understand this history I had to listen to one part over and over again. This is the only portion of the book where the dialect caused me some confusion. I am not sure if the language was cryptic, if I was being obtuse or if quite simply I was was obstinately demanding a thorough explanation of the historical events all summed up in one short dialog. I have this need to thoroughly understand the historical facts. I am satisfied. The historical context is made a bit confusing because Willie is terribly confused and cannot comprehend why the Irish are fighting the Irish when he goes to Dublin on furlough. In chapter eight: Two things I would like to praise. Again, Barry highl Irish conflict in the war. The Irish rarely were given high positions in the army. They were judged on another scale. He showed the English disdain for the Irish men when Willie is sent to headquarters with a message from his captain after a gas attack. The dialog really ripped me apart and made me want to punch some of those English, particularly Major "Stoker". (I am guessing at the spelling!) Again I must explain how much I like the writing style, particularly the brogue of the men in the trenches and the total lack of melodrama. There is a level tone, a distance to how the events are related. This lack of melodrama makes the horror of the war seem even worse because you realize these are the true events with not a smidgen of exaggeration. There is a tinge of irony, disgust of human folly. Yes, Willie admitted, when the officers said that the little Irishman stunk,indeed he had soiled his trousers. Due to fright.... This could be admitted. Anyone who had been in the trenches during the gas attack must acknowledge the blatant truth. Through chapter fourteen and part two: Chapter fourteen is moving, grim and a very difficult portion to read. This is trench warfare with all its gore and horror. Tell me, Barbara and Dawn, how you react to this chapter? Willie wished, as he marches forward under the exploding bombs of both enemy and friendly fire, that he were provided with blinkers as a horse on the road. The sights and smells and cacophony were so overpowering. Here follows a short quote: How easily men were dismembered. How quickly their parts were un-stitched. What this war needed were men made of steel..... The hopelessness of it all struck him with force: No one man had done anything but piss his trousers in terror. I admire the privates and their captain who must lead these men forward. Barry even throws in the absurdity of all the papers these captains must fill in. He has captured so many aspects of warfare. The filth, the food, the camaraderie, the desolation, fear and even bureaucracy! These are my thoughts as I read this chapter.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    After loving Days Without End I found this a little disappointing. There was too much lyrical overview and not enough staying in the narrative moment for me which made it feel a bit detached from what was happening. It's the story of the world war one experiences of a young Irish private, Willie Dunne. The war itself seems to have no formal structure at all and this Barry shows well. It's just one chaotic inexplicable surge of violence after another without apparently rhyme or reason. Willie him After loving Days Without End I found this a little disappointing. There was too much lyrical overview and not enough staying in the narrative moment for me which made it feel a bit detached from what was happening. It's the story of the world war one experiences of a young Irish private, Willie Dunne. The war itself seems to have no formal structure at all and this Barry shows well. It's just one chaotic inexplicable surge of violence after another without apparently rhyme or reason. Willie himself was a marvellously well drawn character and his powerlessness to affect the breakdown of his two most cohering relationships back in Ireland was extremely well done. For the most part I enjoyed it but felt the lyricism combined at times with a flippant bantering tone was a little excessive and created too much distance between the reader and the story.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    A strong 4 and 1/2 stars As with Colm Tóibín, but in a completely different manner, Sebastian Barry's strongest suit is the portrayal of the inner lives of his characters. And what we understand the most about his main character in this novel, Willie Dunne, is the love he feels for his family and, amidst all the chaos and horror of the Great War, the love he has for his comrades, no matter their differences. It was hard to read the one paragraph when he realizes he misses them all. It is the "lit A strong 4 and 1/2 stars As with Colm Tóibín, but in a completely different manner, Sebastian Barry's strongest suit is the portrayal of the inner lives of his characters. And what we understand the most about his main character in this novel, Willie Dunne, is the love he feels for his family and, amidst all the chaos and horror of the Great War, the love he has for his comrades, no matter their differences. It was hard to read the one paragraph when he realizes he misses them all. It is the "little" encounters of humanity that are the most heartbreaking. Barry conveys perfectly the irrationality and chaos of war; and never lets us forget that the numbers killed on either side, no matter what nationality the man was, each represent a once-living, vibrant individual with a personal history. It's a wonder anyone came out of this war (or any war) alive; and if they did, it's completely understandable that they wouldn't be (and maybe couldn't be) sane afterwards. I've read only a little of WWI fiction (the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker is all I can recall) and the descriptions of life in the trenches and the mustard gas rolling in and the mud and the rain and the explosions and the fear are as gritty and harrowing as any of the WWII fiction that I've read more of. It's almost unbearable for the reader at certain points, but we always have the solace and beauty of Barry's words, and we are grateful for the respite.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    3.5 stars This is a hard book for me to rate as I loved some aspects of it and was disappointed by others. Firstly, I'd say that if you're familiar with the memoirs, poetry, fiction and non-fiction of WW1, both from the time and contemporary to us, then there's little that is new. I came to this expecting more to be made of the Irish status of the characters but I felt this was under-developed. More of this later. I did, though, learn about the thousands of Chinese labourers who were employed as 3.5 stars This is a hard book for me to rate as I loved some aspects of it and was disappointed by others. Firstly, I'd say that if you're familiar with the memoirs, poetry, fiction and non-fiction of WW1, both from the time and contemporary to us, then there's little that is new. I came to this expecting more to be made of the Irish status of the characters but I felt this was under-developed. More of this later. I did, though, learn about the thousands of Chinese labourers who were employed as non-combatants to support the French, British and Irish troops. And the combat scenes are suitably horrific (if not fresh or novel) reiterating the terrors of this war. The writing is usually fine as Barry has a poet's ear: 'he loved her so much he wept', or, on barbed wire, 'the murky tangles like sad brambles that would never bear berries in any known September of the world.' In places, though, it gets out of control: 'and they could all hear Joe Clancy's slightly chesty breathing as if miniature pigs were living in his mouth' - what?! Through most of the book I was struggling to come to terms with Willie Dunne who feels like a blank slate, a gaping hole in the narrative, translucent and personality-free: this is especially problematic as we're often reading from his PoV even in 3rd person. By the end, I realised that this refusal to characterise and personalise is probably deliberate in that Willie becomes a kind of Everyman or the Unknown Soldier, such a potent image of this war. Certainly Barry can create great characters such as Christy Moran, the foul-mouthed and cynical sergeant-major. So, the Irish question: surely I'm not alone in reading this book precisely for the insights I hoped to get into what it meant to be fighting in a British uniform while the Easter Rising and struggle for Home Rule was becoming a conflagration in Ireland? But it's oddly subdued here, almost an after-thought happening in the background. Willie seems to know nothing about nationalist politics despite his father being a police superintendent and is shocked when he's brought to fight briefly against the 'rebels' in Dublin just as he's embarking to return to France. As he himself thinks, 'the curious part of it was that not many of the other Irish lads were talking about it' which feels strange and unsatisfactory. A little later, 'News leaked through that the rebels were being shelled from gunboats on the Liffey' - so they do have access to news via the papers and letters from home. There are some gestures towards these events back home (Jesse Kirwan, for example) but they're minor notes where I expected them to be a more central and guiding force. So perhaps a mis-match between my expectations and the book: it's certainly a moving and finely-written testament to a war which still haunts our imaginations, it's just not quite what I thought it would be. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    This was really successful in its description of life in the trenches. Barry conveys the futility of war just as clearly as Tolstoy did in War and Peace, but through the innocent thoughts of a bottom rank soldier instead of via the experiences of more privileged upper class individuals. Willie Dunne is credible and likeable and that allows the reader to stick with him even when the descriptions of the day to day conditions of life in the trenches become unbearable. There are some wonderful and m This was really successful in its description of life in the trenches. Barry conveys the futility of war just as clearly as Tolstoy did in War and Peace, but through the innocent thoughts of a bottom rank soldier instead of via the experiences of more privileged upper class individuals. Willie Dunne is credible and likeable and that allows the reader to stick with him even when the descriptions of the day to day conditions of life in the trenches become unbearable. There are some wonderful and memorable portraits of other soldiers too; the sargent from Cork, the gunner from Mayo, the army chaplin and several more. I particularly liked the way Barry wove the 1916 events in Dublin through the larger story of WW1. The story worked less well for me when Barry tried to inject some melodrama by means of Willie's sweetheart in Dublin. She was too sketchy a character, a paper and ink doll who failed to stand up, and the plot Barry built around her didn't seem credible to me. I have had a similar experience with other Barry books; his need to add extra plot twists can sometimes spoil an otherwise great reading experience.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Katie Lumsden

    This took me a little while to get into, but once I did, I found it an incredibly powerful novel. Very bleak and unflinching, very hard hitting and very brilliant.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    An impressive and very moving book on the lives of Irish soldiers in World War One and the harsh treatment of veterans by the Republicans. Barry's books all tell parts of the story of the same extended family. An impressive and very moving book on the lives of Irish soldiers in World War One and the harsh treatment of veterans by the Republicans. Barry's books all tell parts of the story of the same extended family.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steelwhisper

    Well, I wished I could give this at least 2 stars, but I can't get myself to do so. I'm quite thoroughly exasperated and riled in too many ways to do so. There will be spoilers; be warned if you open them you'll know the end. Maybe there are writers who are capable of doing away with basic writing rules and coming up with a good book, but Barry certainly is not the one in my personal opinion. I was dead tired of his pretentious prose and ceaseless cliched or overly smart similes after the first h Well, I wished I could give this at least 2 stars, but I can't get myself to do so. I'm quite thoroughly exasperated and riled in too many ways to do so. There will be spoilers; be warned if you open them you'll know the end. Maybe there are writers who are capable of doing away with basic writing rules and coming up with a good book, but Barry certainly is not the one in my personal opinion. I was dead tired of his pretentious prose and ceaseless cliched or overly smart similes after the first half dozen pages. His God-style narrative was all over the place, prattling about and preening like some senile auntie with a bad case of lingual diarrhea. If there was a way to use just one adverb in a sentence, Barry found it in himself to use two or even three instead, and he was exactly as plentiful with his adjectives. If he didn't use irritating similes, it were metaphors or even more convoluted structures. Foreshadowing was done with such a heavy hand that you spotted it when it happened and groaned when it was borne out. There wasn't a clean or elegant sentence in the whole book. In consequence this created a fog of distraction and drivel separating me quite thoroughly from the characters. I didn't care fig about any of them(view spoiler)[, even Willie's death left me completely cold, especially as cheap tricks, such as a suddenly procured petty letter from a soldier pal (which wouldn't ever have made it through censoring, even if anyone at the time would have behaved like that!) and a near miss with the relevant hospital stay and the golden-hearted nurse, were used to dramatise it (hide spoiler)] . The plot was a dime a dozen, even though the angle of the Irish volunteers could have been used to create a good, a different war novel. Barry used this instead for cheap parlour tricks, such as adding artificial conflicts and drama to the book's end. It's the story told so many times: virginal boy volunteers for silly or idealistic reasons, finds his manhood, death, fear, terror and heroism over the next years, sees his share of atrocities and stupidities (view spoiler)[and is killed the last moment for his own foolishness of committing a needless humane act, of course without being able to make it up with his father as another tearjerking device (hide spoiler)] . There wasn't a WWI cliche Barry didn't exploit, such as the SAD, singing at Christmas, faithless family and friends at home, but it has all been done much better by others. Particularly exasperating were the factual errors which riddled the book, such as the repeated mention of mustard gas employed long before it was manufactured, with its effects being faultily described as well. Actions which would have resulted in quite different consequences in the real army, and representations (SAD) which belittled and denied what took place in reality. Something which really got my goat is how Barry "dumbed down" everything to represent a commoner/working class lad. That was done in such an arrogant manner, that I found it setting my teeth on edge. Barry's fascination with penises, peckers, clap-ridden whores (another gimmick) and soldiers pissing and shitting themselves didn't add realism, at least not the way he wrote it. Instead it just came over as another abuse of data. I never developed any attachment to one of the characters in this book, no sympathy, no compassion or pity. I never found myself caring about what took place, and the many described atrocities bored me. The whole book was reeking with self-love and self-agenda, borne out by the repeated use of cheap manipulations instead of honest storytelling. Something which needs specific address: Barry did not write men of 1914-1918, he wrote modern men and how they would have behaved transposed to former time. There were so many instances where the behaviour he described was quite clearly modern (e.g. the backstabbing petty reaction of one of his pals, but also the open and acknowledged fear, something people then didn't do, the behaviour of the Irish SAD), that this was a constant itch while I read. Without the facts got so wrong and a more sympathetic treatment of the main character I might have given this 2*, but needlessly engineering them for the scare and this arrogant treatment of working class people decided me to go with the 1*. And as I feel I have to explain my gripe about style, here some examples of what I talk about: The winter sleet bit into the Dublin cab-men, where they gathered in their mucky gabardines by the Round Room in Great Britain Street. The stony face of the old building remained indifferent, with its strange decoration of ox-skulls and draperies. The new babies screeched inside the thick grey walls of the Rotunda Hospital. Blood gathered on the nurses' white laps like the aprons of butchers. He was a little baby and would be always a little boy. He was like the thin upper arm of a beggar with a few meagre bones shot through him, provisional and bare. When he broke from his mother he made a mewling sound like a wounded cat, over and over. This is the first half page and he manages to cram 3 similes (two tired ones and a pretentious one) and 1 metaphor into a mere 115 words (or 4 sentences). He also manages to foreshadow the threatening war with such a heavy hand, that if this were a cheap movie you'd have foreboding music score right there. That's a feat to do in but 115 words. Here's another example: Death was a muddle of sorts, things thrown in their way to make them stumble and fall. It was hard and hard again to make any path through the humbled souls. The quick rats maybe had had their way with eyes and lips; the sightless sockets peered at the living soldiers, the lipless teeth all seemed to have just cracked mighty jokes. They were seriously grinning. Hundreds more were face down, and turned on their sides, as if not interested in such awful mirth, showing the gashes where missing arms and legs had been, their breasts torn away, and hundreds and hundres of floating hands, and legs, and big heavy puddles of guts and offal, all mixed through the loam and sharded vegetation. And as solid as the ruined flesh was the smell, a stench of a million rotted pheasants, that settled on their tongues like a liquid. Now compare this big sauce of words meant to describe the horrors of death and carnage with a mere few short sentences written by Guy Chapman, who actually was there and describes practically the same basic scene of walking across a field of dead: My eye caught something white and shining. I stooped. It was the last five joints of a spine. There was nothing else, no body, no flesh. One is the description of someone enamoured with his own voice, the other is spare, truly horrific and restrained elegance driving home the salient point of it. I could give further examples, but I think this is quite enough to illustrate what I talk about.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    With all of my reading of WWI, I had yet to get the Irish perspective. There is a short bibliography at the back of this edition, and I see there are some nonfiction entries. But I'm primarily a fiction reader. I think as a WWI novel, this doesn't quite make it into the top ranks. Barry seems unable to let us get close to Willie Dunne when he is in the war. I always felt set apart, that I was looking on from a distance, that there was a chasm between the reader and the soldier. In my genealogy r With all of my reading of WWI, I had yet to get the Irish perspective. There is a short bibliography at the back of this edition, and I see there are some nonfiction entries. But I'm primarily a fiction reader. I think as a WWI novel, this doesn't quite make it into the top ranks. Barry seems unable to let us get close to Willie Dunne when he is in the war. I always felt set apart, that I was looking on from a distance, that there was a chasm between the reader and the soldier. In my genealogy research, sometimes there wasn't an actual document for finding parents. Often, it was necessary to use what is called a preponderance of evidence. Most of this novel is set in Belgium, at war. Despite the chasm, there is a preponderance of evidence about what it was like being at the front. Where this book shines is in Dublin. Other readers may be more familiar with Irish history, especially the fight of the Irish to finally have their own country. In some earlier reading, I knew that many Irish refused to help England fight in WWI. Because of this background knowledge, I was surprised that Willie Dunne and many others were willing to don uniforms for "God and King". From my perspective, Sebastian Barry does a masterful job of showing us the division in the country at this time. With family in Dublin and a war in Belgium, Willie Dunne was caught in the middle. Caught, not because he thought he was wrong to have put on the uniform, but actually because he put on the uniform, he could see both sides. Despite my quibble with the war setting, which is most of the book, this novel crosses the 4-/5-star line. For several years I have had 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion marked as "wishlist". Barry has given me a taste of this period. His may actually be the better of it, but I'm willing to find out.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Barbara H

    Buddy read with Dawn & Chrissie. Several years ago, during a weekend sojourn, my husband and I stayed at an inn. We were unexpectedly treated by an Irish group, who sang and played wonderful, captivating music. Part of this entertainment was a storyteller, who enthralled us with his lyrical presentation. Why do I mention this? I have barely started this book, yet I feel Sebastian Barry singing to me, with his soft, pleasant brogue. It shines through!I do not like to generalize, but are there many Buddy read with Dawn & Chrissie. Several years ago, during a weekend sojourn, my husband and I stayed at an inn. We were unexpectedly treated by an Irish group, who sang and played wonderful, captivating music. Part of this entertainment was a storyteller, who enthralled us with his lyrical presentation. Why do I mention this? I have barely started this book, yet I feel Sebastian Barry singing to me, with his soft, pleasant brogue. It shines through!I do not like to generalize, but are there many better narrators of tales than these folks? I am sure there will be more for me to say as I progress with this Buddy-Read! *********************************************************** As I read this profound, often chilling book, the words of this familiar poem often entered my mind. IN FLANDERS FIELDS POEM The World’s Most Famous WAR MEMORIAL POEM By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place: and in the sky The larks still bravely singing fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the dead: Short days ago, We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved: and now we lie In Flanders fields! Take up our quarrel with the foe To you, from failing hands, we throw The torch: be yours to hold it high If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium As I stated earlier, I have buddy read this with Chrissie and Dawn. Since my progress lagged far behind the others and I agree with most of what they have said, I will not attempt to embellish their statements. I will simply add some random thoughts. My uncle (through marriage) hailed from Leeds and was in the army during WWI. He was a lovely, scholarly, witty and open man. I thought of him often during my reading of Barry's narratives, because our uncle had the horrifying experience of being gassed and left in a ditch for two days. Fortunately, he recovered, but he remained in a hospital for a year. No other account which I have read, or seen in a film could parallel the clarity and brutality seen in these chapters. My other thoughts turned to returning soldiers following the Viet Nam War. Willie's and his countrymen's experiences seem chillingly akin to those of our own veterans. They were physically and emotionally bruised after service to their country and were shunned. I had filled pages of notes to add to my comments, but I am abandoning that endeavor. This book was difficult for me. It was sad, it was cruel and it was amazingly realistic. Barry's lyrical language and his insights into the human psyche were remarkable. His portrayal of war has left me grieving.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    Well, this is rather yucky, but I'll be honest: this is the only book I have ever read where, upon conclusion, I was sick. I finished it on a break at work, rocked back and forth in tears, went back to work, promptly turned back around to the bathroom, quietly cried and threw up, went back to work very subdued, then headed home and stared out the window in utter exhaustion. That might not seem an enthusiastic recommendation, but really, it should be. This book was pretty shattering, pretty beaut Well, this is rather yucky, but I'll be honest: this is the only book I have ever read where, upon conclusion, I was sick. I finished it on a break at work, rocked back and forth in tears, went back to work, promptly turned back around to the bathroom, quietly cried and threw up, went back to work very subdued, then headed home and stared out the window in utter exhaustion. That might not seem an enthusiastic recommendation, but really, it should be. This book was pretty shattering, pretty beautiful, pretty ... I don't know, would old C.S. say Tao or Beneficial? Something in the way Barry uses words, the way he sees every person, be they good or bad, with this graceful, almost tormenting empathy ... well, after he creates that pity and then the universe comes in and smashes up against everything, you kinda want to throw up. Still, I think this is one of the best books I've ever read. You should read it too - and hey, at least now you've been forewarned.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    This was a very well written novel set in the First World War. Different from others in that the soldiers were Irish so the events back home put into question their loyalty to the side that they were fighting for and added an extra element of despair and futility to what they were going through. Well worth a read as something a bit different on the subject but extremely depressing as a result!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eamon Doody

    It is nearly 100 years since the start of the First World War I. In my country (Ireland) it is nearly 100 years since the defining moment in our War of Independance - the Easter 1916 Rising. Both of these wars took the lives of many Irishmen - and made widows of a generation of Irish women. For much of the last 100 years Irish "patriotism" only allowed a full acknowledgement of those that died in "Irelands cause". The fallen Irish sons at Gallipoli, the Somme & Pasachendaele have too often been i It is nearly 100 years since the start of the First World War I. In my country (Ireland) it is nearly 100 years since the defining moment in our War of Independance - the Easter 1916 Rising. Both of these wars took the lives of many Irishmen - and made widows of a generation of Irish women. For much of the last 100 years Irish "patriotism" only allowed a full acknowledgement of those that died in "Irelands cause". The fallen Irish sons at Gallipoli, the Somme & Pasachendaele have too often been ignored or worse been portrayed as somehow less "Irish" for dying in a foriegn war. My country built a War memorial shortly after the war - but it took almost 90 years for the state to officially hold a rememberance ceremony there at the 90th anniversary of the Somme (2006). Over 200,000 Irishmen volunteered for the Irish regiments in WW1 - and many more Irish born men living in England joined British units. All were true volunteers - since conscription was never enforced in Ireland. The war dead lists over 50,000 Irish - 1 in 4 of all that joined. It is difficult to argue that any work of fiction could make up for such real life neglect by the Irish nation and Irish people. However I think that this wonderful book does remind us of the brave decisions made by our volunteers. The book also presents in a visceral way the physical and mental horrors of the war. And it does all of this while presenting a very human story and a very sympathetic character in Willie Dunne. And Sebastian Barrys writing style is unforced and accessible. This is a great work of Irish fiction and I am sure it will stand the test of time. It should have won the Booker - but probably wasn't quite literary enough. I am sure it will be read long after "The Sea" falls out of print. I believe there is a movie in the works. I hope they remain true to the spirit of this beautiful story and to the the larger story of the real 200,000 volunteers and that they further honour the memory of the 50,000 fallen heroes.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Em

    Sometimes, I find the books I love the most are the most difficult to formulate a review for. The book is about an Irish volunteer fighting in World War One, I thought it was interesting to read a story from an Irish perspective, quite enlightening in many ways - the turmoil at home as well as that in Europe and the prejudice that existed against Irish soldiers. I just found so much to admire within the pages of A Long, Long Way, chief among them is the stunningly, jaw-droppingly evocative way tha Sometimes, I find the books I love the most are the most difficult to formulate a review for. The book is about an Irish volunteer fighting in World War One, I thought it was interesting to read a story from an Irish perspective, quite enlightening in many ways - the turmoil at home as well as that in Europe and the prejudice that existed against Irish soldiers. I just found so much to admire within the pages of A Long, Long Way, chief among them is the stunningly, jaw-droppingly evocative way that Sebastian Barry describes things: Lungnaquilla is described as "the folds and folds of its great hills, like a gigantic pudding not ever to be entirely folded in" the sunset as "the sun was falling off the edge of the world like a burning man" What will stay with me is the terror of trench warfare, gas attacks, the meloncholy, the affection and love for family and the awakening of political awareness, friendship and trust, growing up, becoming a man. In the end, the book just about broke my heart. A book like this is why I read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Logan

    Tragic and heavy novel focusing on an Irish private fighting in World War I. In general, I enjoyed the book, however I found the dialogue stunted and the characters distant. I always felt like I was in a fog while reading it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tau

    A bittersweet ending that I knew was going to happen but didn't want to. A bittersweet ending that I knew was going to happen but didn't want to.

  27. 5 out of 5

    John of Canada

    There are several brilliant reviews of this in Goodreads.To me it's the story of a young irish lad who wanted to measure up,and did so,at great cost in spite of and because of a horrible war,at home and abroad. There are several brilliant reviews of this in Goodreads.To me it's the story of a young irish lad who wanted to measure up,and did so,at great cost in spite of and because of a horrible war,at home and abroad.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dawn (& Ron)

    Buddy read with Chrissie and Barbara. Edit: Steelwhisper will be joining in with her thoughts too. I don't have time for a full review yet but just wanted to get this out while it was dancing around in my head. This is a book that sits on your heart and presses upon your mind. Each incident is linked. Small things can become big and big things can become small and circle back around again; Christy's medal, the tongue-less girl, Gretta, Father Buckley, Major Stokes, "Stille Nacht, Heilage Nacht" an Buddy read with Chrissie and Barbara. Edit: Steelwhisper will be joining in with her thoughts too. I don't have time for a full review yet but just wanted to get this out while it was dancing around in my head. This is a book that sits on your heart and presses upon your mind. Each incident is linked. Small things can become big and big things can become small and circle back around again; Christy's medal, the tongue-less girl, Gretta, Father Buckley, Major Stokes, "Stille Nacht, Heilage Nacht" and letters and memories between a father and son. Barry shows WWI in a new way, a way I hadn't really seen. He also shows a new type of bravery. The emotional bravery of the last two letters and the bigger bravery of fighting when it seems no one cares. This quote sum up WWI. "The whole world had come out to decide some muddled questions, and Death in delight rubbed his bloody hands." And this sums up the Irish soldier in WWI. "Between your own countrymen deriding you for being in the army, and the army deriding you for your own slaughter, a man didn't know what to be thinking." More to come later, once I let this soak in and sort out my feelings and notes. "I don't care what a man thinks as long as he knows his own mind." "The curse of the world is people thinking thoughts that are only thoughts which have been given to them"(9)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Allan

    This book somehow passed me by on release, but I received it as a gift from a GR friend at Christmas who knows my tastes well, and was massively impressed by it. Combining the horrors of war for the ordinary private with the added complication of being an Irish soldier in the trenches as the country reacts to the Rising and its aftermath, the book is so powerful in its blunt portrayal of life and death in the trenches, as well as behind the lines and at home. One that will live long in the memory This book somehow passed me by on release, but I received it as a gift from a GR friend at Christmas who knows my tastes well, and was massively impressed by it. Combining the horrors of war for the ordinary private with the added complication of being an Irish soldier in the trenches as the country reacts to the Rising and its aftermath, the book is so powerful in its blunt portrayal of life and death in the trenches, as well as behind the lines and at home. One that will live long in the memory.

  30. 4 out of 5

    ☕Laura

    The writing in this book was just beautiful, but I have realized that war stories really aren't my thing. It was a bit of a slog for me making my way through this, as the vast majority of the book takes place on the battlefield. I will absolutely read more by this author, though, as I did love the writing itself. The writing in this book was just beautiful, but I have realized that war stories really aren't my thing. It was a bit of a slog for me making my way through this, as the vast majority of the book takes place on the battlefield. I will absolutely read more by this author, though, as I did love the writing itself.

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