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Oonagh by Mary Tilberg


Oonagh by Mary Tilberg 

Having your first novel published by Cormorant Books is a good thing. Mary Tilberg has joined the ranks, with Joseph Boyden, Elizabeth Hay, and Nino Ricci among others, in this accomplishment, with the publication of her first novel Oonagh. 

Oonagh is not only the title of this book, it is the name of our heroine. It is the 1830’s when we meet Oonagh, in some distress at her sister’s home in Canada. We are with her for just long enough to want to know how she came to be here, and what is happening, before we are whisked back to Ireland some years earlier. 

In Ireland Oonagh is one of a large family, working and living on rented land, unsure of their prospects and the promise of their next meal. Other members of the family have already come to Canada and are encouraging the rest of the family to follow. Oonagh, and her sister, Mairi, along with others from their village, soon set sail for Canada, hoping to bring the rest of the family after they have established themselves. 

Life is not easy in Upper Canada, but these immigrants are used to hard work. At least here, in a village near Cobourg, Ontario, they can own their land and have some control over their lives. 

Not only are the Irish coming to Canada at this time, but so are escaping slaves from the United States. They are establishing themselves in freedom, ever aware that they may still be in danger of being captured and returned to their “owners”. One of these former slaves is Chauncey Taylor, an enterprising man, who has set himself up as the barber in town. Like barber shops everywhere, Chauncey’s shop is a gathering place for the local men; their source of news and gossip. 

Oonagh meets Chauncey when she takes her nephew, Daniel, for a haircut. Their friendship flourishes with Daniel a willing chaperone. Oonagh is, of course, an eligible young woman and there are a few in the Irish immigrant population who would like her for a bride and helpmate on their farms. But it is Chauncey she loves, and is determined to marry. 

Prejudice is alive and well in 1830. Inter-racial marriage is not acceptable in the eyes of many, and Oonagh and Chauncey are on a dangerous path – Chauncey much more aware of this than Oonagh.

As their relationship grows we learn the story of Chauncey’s childhood and his years as a slave. 

Will Oonagh and Chauncey find acceptance and live a long life together? I read to the very end to find out – as will every reader. This is good historical fiction from a writer with a lovely use for language and a sensitive eye. She is off to a promising start with her first novel.



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