~sigh~ It's one of "those" books. I added this one 6 (!) years ago. I'm not even sure I read HR back then, probably fell in love with the cover then forgot all about it with my unending list of books (focused on familiar authors). I didn't know what to expect from this one, but with it's high review rating (and the enchanting cover) I wasn't going to let it go until I found the right time. That day has come and I can tell you now, I'm going to visit more of Panela's books as this one was IMPOSSIBLE to put down. It was beautiful and heartfelt, as well as sad and crashing especially knowing that even if Kathleen (and Jack) aren't real what the Irish went through is.
It's 1846 and the Irish are literally starving to death. The English own their lands and expect them to grow everything for their own needs except for tiny plots of land the Irish grow potatoes on (as it's the most efficient plant for sustenance). When the potatoes rot in the ground and the English aren't even considering to help (while still demanding their crops and payment) there is little the Irish can do but stubbornly try to survive. When the second year of rotting potatoes comes it feels as if even the little hope they had is now gone. The Irish are dying of hunger and no one cares.
Kathleen Deacy is a proud Irishwoman, she never considered leaving Ireland behind but with her brother Sean coming home with a bit (but not enough) money - and without her sweetheart Danny O'Sheehan - she can't expect him to return to Canada when his wife Moira is so close to delivering their first born and she also wants a chance of reuniting with Danny. Taking a few belonging she sets for Newfoundland. Her journey start bad and turned to the worse when she is thrown out to sea in the middle of a storm. Lucky for her a passing whaling ship passes by and finds her. But upon waking up, nothing is as she expected it to be and while she is treated well she is still crushed with the meaning of this delay.
Captain Jack Montgomery doesn't know what to do with a woman on his ship so in a way he does nothing. Well, he does care for her and keep her safe, but he can't change the course of the ship for her, not before he catches enough whales. It's not his ship and he has partners to please and a hope of earning enough on this voyage to be one of his last. But Kathleen has her way of making him see things differently and he finds himself wanting to help far more than he should.
They spend a long journey together. Months and months at sea. An English man (though "American" now) and an Irish woman. What can they have in common, especially with the huge gap in finances/status. Yet Jack can't put aside her determination and honestly and while he doesn't believe in all her superstitious beliefs he comes to appreciate her Irish quotes and through it her values of family and loyalty. Kathleen is frustrated with Jack quite a lot, and yet one thing she can't ignore - his kindness. He doesn't always say the right thing, but his intentions ARE good, and he tries to be fair to her, to listen and understand and be there for her.
Their journey doesn't end when they finally arrive to Boston (not Newfoundland as she hoped as that was Jack's destination and home). While he kept telling himself once they arrive back he'll be "rid" of her, his honestly and kindness (always kindness) continues on with a job and a nice place to stay - his own house - caring for his ill mannered grandfather. Jack and Kathleen circle one another on land like they did at sea but the basics doesn't change - Jack's future is set on making his fortune and Kathleen's on being loyal to her family and country and falling for an Englishman is not in the cards.
You'd think her (and Jack's) mostly mundane life - at sea and on land - wouldn't be that interesting yet their funny banter and the mutual frustration from one another was so engaging I simply couldn't put this book down. I wanted to see them 'work', but with every step forward, something (or someone..) was pushing them down. They were both torn by what they THOUGHT they wanted to what they actually CRAVED inside. It took many pages but they finally found that in one another. I will say, if you expect "steam" you won't be getting much of that. Yet for me what we did get, especially considering who Kathleen is, felt true to her character as well as the times. I actually liked the more suggestive gestures and the big meaning to the smaller acts of touch / contact.
Kathleen's infinite Loyalty and Jack's endless kindness was there throughout every page but his last and final gesture towards her, especially when he expected (as always) nothing in return, was utterly devastating. In a good way. Pamela has managed to show us a sliver of hope in a sea of agony. This whole book, while being fiction, shown me the Irish in a way I have never seen, heard or read before and I know this story - of Ireland (as well as Kathleen and Jack) - is going to stay with me for a long long time.
This book was simply OUTSTANDING. I don't have enough words to express just how much it meant to me personally. In the end it's such a simple story - A poor girl and a rich boy. On the "outside" nothing that extraordinary about them. Yet their story somehow had it all. My only complaint would be how abruptly the story ended. I needed another scene - just another page, half a page. Something MORE. But I guess, me waiting 6 years to read this one has its benefits as there is a second installment now "A Rush of White Wings" of Kathleen's brother Sean - allowing me more than just a little glimpse into Jack and Kathleen as a formed couple.
A MUST READ!
18-19 September 2021