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22gigantes.com - Irish Free State, 1931. An ambitious journalism student from University College Dublin travels to Roscommon to investigate the life of his paternal grandfather, a deceased Fenian leader nicknamed "Colonel", in hopes of writing a stellar article that will earn him notoriety. Upon arrival he discovers that the locals who remember the "Colonel" from twenty-some years ago are not too keen on talking. They avert their eyes and mumble about the land being cursed. As the young man digs deeper, he discovers the history of this seemingly exemplary Irish family is laced with secrets and violence. A staunch nationalist father, who fantasizes about staging another rebellion, and a blatantly unionist mother, who idolizes all things English, compete for the loyalty of their two sons. Caught in their parents' political conflict, the boys suffer–body and soul–seeking refuge in dark and perilous places. The summer of 1910 seals their fate, when the "Colonel" takes them to a secret training camp on the banks of the Shannon and pressures them to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Will both sons comply with their father's demand, or will they end up on opposite sides of the barricade? The oldest, a naïve Celtic titan, seems eager to follow the Fenian path, but the youngest, a sickly, secretive bookworm, may have already found his happiness in the enemy camp. What is the price for disobeying Daddy? Set in the decade leading up to the Easter Rising, Big Hero of a Small Country is a grim and candid exploration of fanaticism.
Most helpful customer reviews 0 of 0 people found the following review helpful. A Memorable Past Captured in a Powerful Style By John B. Rosenman Verified PurchaseM. J. Neary has written often of Irish struggles for independence from English rule, and never better than here. It is 1931 and the Irish Free State has at last been achieved, but the past haunts it in myriad ways. Bren, a journalism student, struggles to investigate and understand his heritage so he can write about it. In particular, what happened to Bren’s paternal grandfather Brendan, the red-haired Fenian rebel? For some reason, locals are not eager to discuss the matter.I liked the framework device of Bren’s letters to a friend concerning the events that occurred over twenty years before. The attempt to understand and recover the past is a powerful, resonant theme. I’m reminded of Absalom, Absalom! and other novels of William Faulkner concerning the American South. Another strength of the novel is characterization. Often, writers are urged to show rather than tell, and to keep the action moving. Neary’s willingness to linger over her characters, especially those of the Malone family, enriches this narrative considerably. She also has the poetic ability to use memorable phrases that seem exactly right. When one character dies, she writes, “when he collapsed at the foot of the altar, it [death] hastily fetched his soul, like a swift hound fetches a prey killed an instant ago by the hunter.”The ending of the novel is beautiful and bittersweet. Despite a few typos, Big Hero of a Small Country sweeps you along, making you think you actually lived in Ireland around 1910. 1 of 1 people found the following review helpful. Raw history - torrid romance - intrigue By gclifton(Texas) M.J. Neary has created a dynamic, gripping, often poignant, frequently tragic historical fiction adventure, built around the turbulent times and turmoil of Ireland’s struggles for freedom from English rule. Set in the early 1900’s, the travails of the Malone family, inseparable from the Fenian movement, and intertwined with other families caught in the conflict, Neary skillfully details the raw difficulties of the Catholic nationalists, their loves, hatreds, failures, and the frequent, rampant cruelty of the era. Historically accurate, blended with rough edges of the period, and beautifully written, Big Hero is a trip worth taking. 0 of 0 people found the following review helpful. Gripping Story! By Archie “Big Hero of a Small Country” is a thrilling mystery set in 1930s, during the difficult times in Ireland who is struggling to get its freedom from English rule. The novel starts with a journalism student Bren, who wants to find out about his heritage, so he can write about. But has to struggle for people to even talk about it and what he discovers is all then, a tragic stories of families who lives were shattered during the Irish revolution due to hatred, alcohol, struggling relationships and misunderstandings between groups.The highlight of the book is the skillful writing style that captivates the reader to the level that you start feeling the emotions of the characters, feel sympathy for them or hate them for their doings. The appropriate details of the period and time is surely an add-on to the book. The characters are not perfect, but have flaws and seem real, and that’s what makes this a gripping novel. See all 12 customer reviews...
Big Hero of a Small Country continues in a long line of Irish writing dealing with the troubles. It has echoes of Brian Friel's Translations where there is a fundamental tension between those who see the Anglicization of Ireland as progress, and those who side with the nationalist cause. The wider historical conflict between the English and Irish is mirrored in the complex relations of the Malone family. The story builds to a spellbinding climax - not to be missed.--M.D. Murphy, Ph.D., author of Dark River MelodyBig Hero of A Small Country by M.J. Neary is a gripping story about a man who zealously schemes to overthrow the English. M.J. Neary gives the reader the bleak insight of an Irish activist living in Ireland in the early nineteen hundreds. Life was not easy for anyone at that time, and the difficult life seemed to take a heavy toll on Brendan's psyche. He became fanatical about removing what he perceived to be the cause of his problems. Some of his friends and family agreed with him, and others just wanted to adjust and make the best of what they had. This is a magnificent fictional rendition of their story. I really enjoyed reading this book. It is well-written and very interesting. I was captivated by this view into Ireland's history and recommend it to those who love good historical fiction. It is an eye-opening and heartrending look into the past and a testament to the strength of those who lived through it.--Susan Sewell, 5-star review from Readers' Favorite
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