Epic debut novel is 2013 ‘Tale’ pick

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 
By Ben Beagle

“May the Road Rise Up to Meet You” is the debut novel from Peter Troy.

The novel, the first part of a planned trilogy, spans the first major wave of Irish immigration to New York in the 1840s — when the Great Famine devastated Ireland’s potato crop — through the end of the Civil War.

 “There are broad themes of immigration, the wrench of leaving the homeland, coming to a new place — a new home — and the good, the bad and the challenge of that. There’s hardship and triumph, families, love lost and love found … oppression by race, slavery and gender, and the triumph over that,” Nina T. Warren, director of library services at Genesee Community College, said in announcing the title during a reception at GCC’s Alfred C. O’Connell Library. “It’s an epic, which is a genre we haven’t done before.”

 “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You” is the 11th title to be featured by Tale, which encourages readers in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties to pick up the same book, read and discuss it, and then meet the author during a series of visits in the spring.

Vicki Becker, a passionate reader from Batavia, said she looks forward to the Tale program each year.

“Every one has been so distinct and different,” she said. “I can see how they really had to work to get what they thought was the right book for the program.”

More than 40 titles were considered over the past several months. Tale organizers liked that Troy’s book was about “hope and opportunity” with “great character development,” said Leslie DeLooze, the community services librarian at Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia, who started the Tale project.

The announcement was made during simultaneous events at four Tale libraries. About 90 people attended events at GCC, Corfu Free Library, 7 Maple Ave., Corfu; Yates Community Library, 15 North Main St., Lyndonville; and Perry Public Library, 70 North Main St., Perry.

Each location featured themed decorations and refreshments such as Irish soda bread, baskets of potatoes and Irish breakfast tea. Door prizes, including a copy of Troy’s book, were  awarded.

In GCC’s Library Media Room, where about two dozen gathered, books scattered about the room provided a picture of the times. Subjects included Irish immigration, the Potato Famine, old New York City, the Civil War, the Underground Railroad and African-American life in the United States.  Richard Bartl, a part-time reference librarian at GCC, read selections from the book, slipping into an Irish brogue when reading about Ethan McOwen, one of the novel’s main characters.

“This one sparked my imagination as soon as I saw all the books, and the quilt. I can’t wait; I think it’s got all my big interests, the Civil War and historical fiction,” Joyce Thompson Hovey of Pavilion said at GCC.

The library in Corfu, where 18 people participated, included a table decorated with an Irish theme and a statue of a Civil War soldier.

Yates Community Library displayed the 10 previous Tale books and served soda bread, cheese, cider and tea to evoke the book’s early setting. More than two dozen people attended.

“Many folks purchased the book today, which to me says they are very eager to read it,” said Emily Cebula, director of the Yates library.

More than 20 people attended in Perry, where library director Peggy Parker was joined by directors from four other Wyoming County libraries and trustees from three others.

“People were at first mystified by the decorations and refreshments, which seemed to have little in common,” Parker said, noting the library’s statue of Abraham Lincoln, a basket of potatoes, Irish soda bread and Irish breakfast tea.

“Once the book was announced,” she said, “the audience seemed pleased and intrigued with the choice.”

“May the Road Rise Up to Meet You” (400 pages, Doubleday) is a sprawling novel that tells the story of four distinct characters: Ethan McOwen, an Irish immigrant who survived the worst of the Famine only to find his endurance tested and discovers a passion for photography in the rough-and-tumble Five Points section of Brooklyn — one of America’s first slums; Marcella, a society girl from Spain who defies her father to become a passionate Abolitionist; and Mary and Micah, slaves who embark on a tumultuous path to freedom. The story’s settings include Cooperstown and Red Hook.

The four lives unfold in two love stories, which eventually collide when the Civil War brings them all together.

“The story was initially inspired by a mixture of my love for history and the desire to tell a great American story,” Troy, who is of Irish descent, said in an email interview with The Daily News. “As I progressed in the writing and editing of it the characters became the stars rather than the historical events that would serve as the backdrop for the story.”

Troy’s novel has received strong reviews from professional library journals, including BookList where Margaret Flanagan said Troy’s novel tightly interweaves its “narrative strands into a vivid tapestry of Civil War-era America” and imbues “each character with a distinctive voice and point-of-view, keeping the story line flowing while providing a panoramic overview of a significant juncture in history.”

Public libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties started Tale in 2003 with Leif Enger’s “Peace Like a River.” GCC joined the project in 2005.

Book discussions will begin in late January or early February at participating libraries and continue into March when Troy is scheduled to visit each of the three counties for talks and booksignings. Related events may be scheduled and a book review contest is planned.

“I’m look forward to the whole thing,” said Marilyn Orlando of Batavia, who attended the GCC event. “I’m interested in history and this book has Irish immigration, the Civil War. I’m really thrilled, it seems to have a little of all of that.”

Books are chosen based on acclaim received from reviews or awards, an accessibility to readers of many ages, a story that encourages the discussion of literature and a theme that includes small town or rural family life. Tale organizers often seek out upcoming authors, or authors that are not as well known among area readers. It is also important that that the author be available to participate in a series of visits.

Previous authors for Tale have included Leif Enger, Howard Frank Mosher, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Jennifer Donnelly, Mark Spragg, Thomas Mullen, P.L. Gaus, Garth Stein, Hillary Jordan and Yannick Murphy.

Troy has never participated in a community reading project – as either a writer or a reader.

 “I look forward to speaking to people not just about the book, but the process of writing it, for they are quite related,” said Troy, a former high school teacher who began writing his novel about 5 years ago. “In some small way, the story of my characters is my own story, and so, whether speaking to students who might aspire to write or pursue another dream, or speaking to people my age or older who look back at a dream deferred, I hope to encourage them to pursue those dreams with passion and determination.”

Copies of Peter Troy’s “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You” are available for purchase at Richmond Memorial Library, Perry Public Library, Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina; and the library at GCC.

The book is also available to borrow at the 19 public libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties and GCC.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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