Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Sebastian Barry

By Lynn Willoughby

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

An orphan of the the Irish potato famine, Thomas McNulty finds himself alone and penniless in the US.  He meets John Cole, another orphan, neither of whom really know their own age, but they are not yet 20.  Together, in the 1850s, they sign up to be soldiers and fight the Indian wars in the USA.
Their lives are one hardship after another, each seemingly worse than the one before.  Barry is a master storyteller and we can feel the rain, the cold, the swollen and blistered feet.  And the visuals of the horror that is war had me mesmerized.
Today, when we speak of survivors, we make a reality series for TV.  These two – Thomas and John, survive the impossible and the unimaginable.  And when the Indians have been mostly slaughtered by the US army, the Civil War begins.  These are indeed “days without end”.
Hunger, cold, boredom, rain, battles, death and horror make up the years until the two men cobble together a sort of family.  The hard scrabble life of Tennessee tobacco farmers seems like heaven to them – but it does not last.  I expect people have survived some of the horrors of this story, but that these two young men survive ALL of it is remarkable.  When all around you are enemies, when you have few friends and no family, no role models – what keeps you from madness?
Barry’s writing is haunting.  It is real.  It is evocative and will remain with me for a very long time.  Once I am recovered from the descriptions of man’s brutality to other men, I plan to read another of Barry’s historical novels.
  • The Secret Scripture
  • On Canaan’s Side
……………………and several others

Who Knew?

The Yurok social and ecological balance, thousands of years old, was shattered by the invasion of the non-Indians, beginning in the 17th century.  As white European explorers, gold miners and settlers came into their region, the Yurok people lost more than three fourths of their population through fatal contact with European diseases and unprovoked massacres.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply