Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Norah: The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th-Century New York by Cynthia G. Neale

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Fireship Press Virtual Book Tours
Read: November 8, 2013

Once she was a child of hunger, but now Norah McCabe is a woman with courage, passion, and reckless dreams. Her story is one of survival, intrigue, and love. This Irish immigrant woman cannot be narrowly defined! She dons Paris fashion and opens a used-clothing store, is attacked by a vicious police commissioner, joins a movement to free Ireland, and attends a National Women's Rights Convention. And love comes to her slowly one night on a dark street, ensnared by the great Mr. Murray, essayist and gang leader extraordinaire. Norah is the story of a woman who confronts prejudice, violence, and greed in a city that mystifies and helps to mold her into becoming an Irish-American woman.

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In all honesty, my decision to read Cynthia G. Neale's Norah had more to do with my penchant for attractive cover art than it did the jacket description. Familiar as I am with the subject matter I was actually rather skeptical of this piece and was quite surprised when I discovered how compelling a story it turned out to be. 

Norah is an interesting protagonist. Complex, headstrong, and fiercely independent, she is challenging to warm to, but I found much to admire in her tenacious determination, lofty ambitions, and street savvy intellect. This being the third of her novels to feature Norah McCabe, Neale doesn't spend a lot of time developing her leading lady and while I completely understand that such treatment would be superfluous at this stage, I can't help feeling my lack of familiarity with Norah made it difficult to truly appreciate her character, especially in the early chapters of the narrative. 

Neale's portrayal of nineteenth century New York, specifically the hardships faced by those living in the notorious neighborhood of The Five Points, proved my favorite aspect of the book. Most writers can recreate the dilapidated tenements, rampant poverty, violent street gangs and general squalor that characterized the district, but Neale took it one step further in her illustration of the displaced Irish and their effort to build lives in a country that quite frankly, didn't want them.

Touching on a wide variety of subjects, Norah is a notably content heavy fiction. Personally I found the information fascinating, but I recognize the abundance of fact based material may be a tad overwhelming to readers who aren't overly familiar with Irish-American history. Richly detailed, Norah is a diverse and dynamic narrative that brilliantly recreates the immigrant experience, but that being said, it might not be the best choice for those who prefer lighter lit. 

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Look at you! You’ve planted and dug potatoes, planted and harvested grain, and worked on the roads half-starved. The evil spirit, the taise, tried to capture your mind while your body was attacked by gnawing hunger that left you with bones that resembled the strength of oak. But you can’t be destroyed! You’ve sheltered us with your strength. Here in this country we’ve been together and filled our bellies with all kinds of food. Here in America it’s possible to take the invisible dreams that float behind our toil and turn them into gold coins.
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Friday, January 24
Review at Broken Teepee
Feature & Giveaway at Bibliophilic Blog
Tuesday, January 28
Review at Daisy Row Diaries
Friday, January 31Guest Post at The Little Reader Library
Saturday, February 1
Review at HF Book Muse News
Review to appear in Montreal Examiner
Monday, February 3
Review at A Bookish Affair
Giveaway begins at English Historical Fiction Authors
Guest Post: "Advice to Aspiring Authors and Finding Joy in Everyday LifeKaren Randau
Tuesday, February 4
Review at Reaching Out With Reviews
Wednesday, February 5
Review at Reflections of a Reader
Thursday, February 6
Review at Me, Bookshelf and I
Friday, February 7
Review at She Reads Novels
Monday, February 10
Guest Post at The Bookworm
Tuesday, February 11
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Interview with Cynthia Neale February 14
Wednesday, February 12
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, February 13
Guest post at Outtakes from a Historical Novelist  with Kim Rendfeld 
Monday, February 17
Review at Mary Donnarumma Sharnick
Tuesday, February 18
Review at TheBookAddictedHousewife
Interview with Cynthia Neale February 20
Wednesday, February 19
Review and Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time


Judith Starkston said...

Thank you for the thoughtful, in depth review of Norah. You've given readers a lot to think about as they pick up Norah.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Judith. I try.