I dove into this book assuming that it was going to be bleak – I mean, the title is The Punishing Journey of Arthur Delaney, and it’s not a metaphor – but wow, Bob Kroll held back no punches with this one. It is dark and tragic and very bleak, and if you’re looking for a fairy tale ending, I will spoil and tell you not to bother, but I will also say that despite the bleakness of the story, it’s a rewarding read. Kroll’s spare prose and eye for accuracy in a sweeping story set in the 19th century resulted in a rich, haunting story. It’s not pleasant, nor is it an easy read, but it is one that I’ve thought about repeatedly in the days since I’ve finished reading it.
Arthur Delaney is distraught when his wife Mary dies. Without an idea of what to do and how to take care of three children, he leaves his children in the care of an orphanage and goes off to fight in the American Civil War. During the war, he gets put into a Confederate prison and spends three years there. Making his way up the American east coast, Delaney does a number of odd jobs in order to have the money to sail home to Halifax and get his children back. But when he finally makes it to Halifax, he finds out that Miss Golding, the head of the orphanage, has indentured his children out, and they’re lost to him. Delaney is newly crushed, and he embarks on a Canada-wide walk to find his children, wherever they may have ended up. Interspersed with snapshots of Delaney’s travels through the decades are chapters about each of his three children: Jimmy, who runs away from his indenture and ends up working in logging camps; Robina, who gets accused of murdering the man who bought her indenture, spends some time in jail, and then goes on her own long walk to find a life; and Annie, who was saved from jail by Robina and ends up adopted by a kind family. Each child has a very different, lonely existence, wandering in their own way.
While this is bleak, it’s not that this story is without sparks of hope and joy. It’s realistic: as nice as it would be to have a fairytale ending to this, it ties up well but not without lingering regret and pain. Kroll brings us into a harsh world, where the ramifications of Delaney’s actions reverberate through time and space, but at its centre is a truly remorseful person. How rare is it to have a character who genuinely commits themselves to fixing a horrible mistake! And for all of the coarseness and brutality throughout the novel, there is a great deal of tenderness. This is a powerful novel, and one I recommend you stick with, even though it will challenge you.
Bob Kroll studied history at Providence College and the University of New Brunswick. He worked on farms and in the woods before settling into a forty year writing career. His previous books include The Drop Zone, The Hell Of It All, and Fire Trap. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
- Publisher : ECW Press (June 7 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1770416331
- ISBN-13 : 978-1770416338
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