Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane

In the 1950'sJohanna and her sister, Greta lived with their parents, Lily and Big Tom and their brothers in Ballyroan, Ireland. It was a very quiet little town, as many people from the town had immigrated to America. They lead a simple life of farming and fishing salmon. Joanna and Greta went to school while their brothers farmed with Big Tom. The family didn't think that Greta would really amount to much, she was quite awkward and they called her a goose. She stuck to Joanna like glue and rarely left her side.

One day a gypsy woman and her son, Michael came to their home looking for a handout. Johanna was drawn to Michael right away, wondering what it was like to roam the country side and not live in any one place.

Then, Johanna and Greta's father was shot for poaching salmon and died. It left the family without much means to survive. All except for one of the brothers, Little Tom went to Australia. They found work and send what money they could back home to help the family. Joanna then got the idea that her and Greta should also find work and they did in a nearby town, lying about their ages. They worked in a bed and breakfast however, there were very few customers and they were finally let go.

They ran into Michael every once in awhile and then one day, he showed up on their doorstep again. He was fascinated by the family and wondered what it would be like to live in a house. Lilly let him stay and he pitched in with chores and farming with Little Tom.

Johanna started sneaking out at night to visit Michael in the barn , where he slept. She wanted to convince him to go to America with her. She told Greta of the plan and she wanted to go too. Lily didn't know about it until Greta spilled the beans by purposely leaving a letter out from a family friend in America. Lily decided that it would be a good idea for both her girls to go with Michael to America and work for awhile. They could send some money home and eventually move back home to Ballyroan.

It was now the 1960's and Johanna, Greta, and Michael end up in New York. It is quite disconcerting at first, coming from such a small town with few people to the hustle and bustle of a big city. Also, soon after they arrive, Joanna discovers that she is pregnant from the nights she spent with Michael on the ship.

The Walking People is Mary Beth Keane's first novel. Though not perfect, I really enjoyed it. She wrote in beautiful prose about the people and landscape of Ballroan, Ireland. The character development was very strong and rang true for me. She effortlessly transitioned the story to America and captured the heart of 1960's New York. There is a lot more to the story but I don' want to risk giving away spoilers. I recommend this to historical fiction fans and lovers of the immigrant experience.



  1. Your review really piqued my interest, especially what you said about the strong character development and beautiful prose.

  2. Stephanie, those are two main ingredients I need to truly enjoy a book.