"Learning to kill made him less charming but more in demand… 'It’s how ye become a man to be reckoned with…'"

Margaret Quigley dies in 1849 without telling her 11-year-old son Joseph that she loves him. Although he knows her death in childbirth aboard a ship full of Irish potato famine refugees is no one's fault, he never forgives her. Thus begins Joe Quigley's lifelong propensity toward self-pity and his inability to take personal responsibility for his various failures. Charm, a beautiful singing voice, and a gift for working with horses can only advance the fortunes of a bright but unmotivated alcoholic husband and father of six so far. Acting on a promise to their dead father, Michael, Joe's older half-brother, strives to keep an eye on Joe while bringing honor to the Quigley name. He and his descendants successfully keep the second half of that promise as prosperous stonemasons and farmers. But headstrong Joe embarks on a path that may well ruin him and devastate everyone he holds dear.

Readers of this novel will know its outcome from the first page since the author explicitly states what that will be. Joe is narcissistic to his core. Yet this very weakness of his makes the altruism and resilience of the other characters inspiring and endearing. Joe's wife, Mary, and his brother Michael, in particular, propel the narrative forward as they reach for, and fulfill, the goals that drive their families to prosper in America. This is the story of the author's great-grandfather's immigration from Ireland and the tragedy he unleashed upon her other ancestors. She attempts to heal through its writing from the deep wounds he caused. Jaffe also extensively illustrates the damaging effect of the stereotype of the Irish as lazy drunks on the collective Irish psyche. The story is likely to interest anyone fascinated by the psychological impact of assimilation and family violence on first-generation Irish immigrants.

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