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Title: The Banyan Tree
Book Condition: Fair
About this title
Covering the eighty-plus years of the life of Minnie O’Brien, The Banyan Tree is a rich saga of rural Ireland in the twentieth century. In prose as lushly layered as the land it describes, Nolan lovingly details the triumphs and tragedies of this spirited woman, who struggles to keep body and soul, as well as her modest hopes, alive. While her three grown children have long since moved away, she is determined to keep her family’s farm from the tightening grip of her unscrupulous neighbor, in the hope that one day her youngest will return to claim what is rightfully his. Weaving from the gentle world of Minnie’s youth to the harder realities of the present, this sage and soulful story pays homage to a feisty individual spirit as well as a rich collective past.Review:
Winner of the 1987 Whitbread Award for Under the Eye of the Clock, Christopher Nolan has now fashioned an extraordinary epic set in rural Ireland. The Banyan Tree spans three generations of O'Briens, who own a small dairy farm in Westmeath. For years, alas, the family has seen its ranks diminish. Minnie O'Brien's husband is long dead and her three children scattered in a typical Irish diaspora--Brendan is a priest in Africa, Sheila a nurse in London, and Frankie an Australian sheepshearer and oddjobber around the globe. In the meantime, Minnie stubbornly clings to her life, her five fields, and her memories, which take root like a banyan tree and feed her lonely old age.
In many ways, The Banyan Tree is a conventional tale of births and deaths, weddings and funerals, all set against the land and the lure of emigration. What makes it unusual is Nolan's flexible, fickle, and often fantastical language. Not only does he use colloquialisms to locate the characters very specifically, but he brings verbs, nouns, and adjectives to sparkling life by allowing them to change places at will. The butter churn is a "druidic dark drum" that comes "Sundaying into life." On the day after Minnie's wedding, the "morning songed the reading of the streets." Even a description of a sleeping baby erupts into Joycean music:
Breathing soundlessly, the baby slept as though he had been there since the house was built. Waves of tenderness winked from her immaculate eyes as she facted where her baby but slept away his drabness.... His minutes were building into hours and his plumbed hours were nearing that transom hour, that bragging hour, when he might bubble burst just to hymn his daylong lifetime.Nolan's alliterations and galloping hyphenation evoke not only Joyce but the whimsical beauty of Gerard Manley Hopkins. And like Hopkins, he can sometimes overindulge his penchant for verbal shenanigans. But while the author's circumlocutions may clog the narrative from time to time, The Banyan Tree nonetheless works up to a moving climax, and offers a surfeit of linguistic riches along the way. --Cherry Smyth
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