Published by Simon and Schuster on 6/19/2014
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No Country opens in 1989, when an Indian-American couple is found murdered in their upstate New York home. Within pages, the novel shifts to introduce best friends Brendan and Padraig in 1840’s Ireland. Through a series of events, Padraig is forced to leave behind his love, Brigid, and winds up headed for Calcutta on a ship chartered by the East India Trading Company. Brendan is unable to help Brigid survive the Great Famine, but manages to escape to America with Padraig’s daughter in hopes of starting life anew. No Country traces the branches of Padraig’s family as they grow outward from Ireland toward the United States and India, weaving forward through history toward the present.
From the beginning, Ray establishes the center of his story firmly in Brendan and Padraig. As children and decades tumble forward, each is connected to the pair through the questions they ask and the home they seek. Though the coincidental links between characters can feel like a stretch at times, the story is told on a grand, cinematic scale that makes anything seem possible.
The patchwork of the novel’s cover is reflected in the historical events pieced together to form major marking points throughout the story, such as the Irish War of Independence and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Yet, the strength of No Country is in the moments between those landmark events.
“Even as the eye glances away from the painting, even before I turn the glossy stiffness of the page, I think how the miraculous and the mundane must exist side by side to make possible these ageless moments—these loci of inward radiance—surrounded by the everyday earth and light. They become a pentimento in my memories, so that the unforgettable can be held in the palm of memory.”
Throughout the novel, “the miraculous and the mundane” are handled with equal measure. The color of a mother’s hair is described with the same care as the tragedy of a deadly fire. All the while, Ray seamlessly adjusts his style to the era of his narrator, able to make passages shine regardless of the voice behind them.
Over several continents, multiple decades and hundreds of pages Kalyan Ray turns over complicated ideas of identity and belonging beyond what we usually see in our stories. Yet, through the layered perspective of several splintered family journeys, it’s possible to see just what it means to have No Country.