By Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue, an Irish-born playwright, literary historian, and novelist now living in Canada, explores migrants of all types in this collection of short stories. Her previous novel Room (**** SELECTION Nov/Dec 2010), about a five-year-old boy trapped in a small room with his mother, who was abducted years earlier, was a Booker Prize finalist.
THE STORY: From 1882 London to 1976 Ontario, antebellum Louisiana, and Revolutionary New Jersey, Donoghue, in 14 stories divided into three sections ("Departures," "In Transit," and "Arrivals and Aftermaths"), profiles various migrants, all crossing boundaries physical, emotional, and spiritual. Based on the letters of Charles Dickens, "Onward" features a single mother who enters prostitution to make ends meet. In "The Gift," set in Jersey City in 1877, a desperate young mother gives up her daughter to the infamous Orphan Trains. "Man and Boy" offers a story about the sale of Jumbo to P. T. Barnum and the man tasked with handling his trans-Atlantic crossing. And in "Counting the Days," set in Quebec, a husband waits for his family's arrival from Belfast as he succumbs to cholera. At the end of each story, Donoghue provides a brief explanation of its true-life historical underpinning.
Little, Brown. 288 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780316206297
Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel ****
"Each of these stories confirms Donoghue's observation, in an illuminating Afterword, that migrants are often strangers in the land they leave as well as the one they seek--'strays,' to use her word, who cross legal, racial and sexual boundaries as well as geographic ones. ... In the middle and final sections of Astray, men and women trying on new identities often retreat in fear upon seeing what they find." MIKE FISCHER
Minneapolis Star Tribune ****
"Although many of the pieces in the collection feel more like sketches than fleshed-out drawings, this sketchy quality works, oddly, to advantage, opening spaces for the reader to fill in the blanks, flesh out the story line, re-imagine the historical incident. ... The notes and the afterword provide a gratifying window into the creative imagination--a nice bonus for readers of Astray." PATRICIA HAGEN
NY Times Book Review ****
"Her work (as she proved most recently in her hugely successful novel, Room) is sensitive and intuitive, and her narrative voice moves fearlessly between centuries and between genders. ... As the author points out in her afterword...