At the age of sixteen, Paulina leaves her small village in western Kenya to join her new husband, Martin, in the bustling city of Nairobi. It is 1956, and Kenya is in the final days of the "Emergency," as the British seek to suppress violent anti-colonial revolts.
But Paulina knows little about, about city life, or about marriage, and Martin’s clumsy attempts to control her soon lead to a relationship filled with silences, misunderstandings, and unfulfilled expectations. Soon Paulina’s inability to bear a child effectively banishes her from the confines of traditional women’s roles. As her country at last moves toward independence, Paulina manages to achieve a kind of independence as well: She accepts a job that will require her to live separately from her husband, and she has an affair that leads to the birth of her first child. But Paulina’s hard-won contentment will be shattered when Kenya’s turbulent history intrudes into her private life, bringing with it tragedy—and a new test of her quiet courage and determination.
Paulina’s patient struggles for survival and identity are revealed through Marjorie Macgoye’s keen and sensitive vision—a vision which extends to embrace the whole of a nation and a people likewise struggling to find their way. As the Weekly Standard of Kenya notes, "Coming to Birth is a radical novel in firmly asserting our common humanity."
The place is Albany, New York. The year is 1936. Six-year-old Jean-Luc LaPointe, his little sister, and their spirited but vulnerable young mother have been abandoned—again—by his father, a charmer and a con artist. With no money and no family willing to take them in, the LaPointes manage to create a fragile nest at 238 North Pearl Street. For the next eight years, through the Great Depression and Second World War, they live in the heart of the Irish slum, with its ward heelers, unemployment, and grinding poverty. As Jean-Luc discovers, it’s a neighborhood of “crazyladies”: Miss Cox, the feared and ridiculed teacher who ignites his imagination; Mrs. Kane, who runs a beauty parlor/fortune-telling salon in the back of her husband’s grocery store; Mrs. Meehan, the desperate, harried matriarch of a thuggish family across the street; lonely Mrs. McGivney, who spends every day tending to her catatonic husband, a veteran of the Great War; and Jean-Luc’s own unconventional, vivacious mother.
Jean-Luc is a voracious reader who never stops dreaming of a way out of the slum. He gradually takes on responsibility for the family’s survival with a mix of bravery and resentment while his mom turns from spells of illness and depression to eager planning for the day when “our ship will come in.” It’s a heartfelt and unforgettable look back at one child’s life in the 1930s and ’40s, a story that will be remembered long after the last page is turned.
Look for these Trevanian classics from Three Rivers Press: Shibumi, The Eiger Sanction, The Loo Sanction, The Summer of Katya, and The Main.
From the Hardcover edition.
-Arthur Kent, journalist, documentary filmmaker, and author of Warlord Reborn
"Like Scout Finch and Mattie Ross and Ellen Foster before her, Vicky Finley has grit and will and insight, a wry eye for the world around her, and a deeply engaging way of finding there a place of her own."
-Michael Malone, author of Handling Sin
The Finleys learn firsthand how memories can betray us, how secrets of the past can burden the present, and how tragedy can test our resolve. And as Vicky ambitiously pursues her passion for cooking, honors a promise to her brother, and manages to bring a struggling community together, she discovers what really makes a family.
Without Grace is a heartening portrait of small-town life and a tender and triumphant coming-of-age tale about the complexities and comforts of family and the healing that comes with letting go of the past.