May the Road Rise Up to Meet You
An engrossing, epic American drama told from four distinct perspectives, spanning the first major wave of Irish immigration to New York through the end of the Civil War.
Four unique voices; two parallel love stories; one sweeping novel rich in the history of nineteenth-century America. This remarkable debut draws from the great themes of literature—famine, war, love, and family—as it introduces four unforgettable characters. Ethan McOwen is an Irish immigrant whose endurance is tested in Brooklyn and the Five Points at the height of its urban destitution; he is among the first to join the famed Irish Brigade and becomes a celebrated war photographer. Marcella, a society girl from Spain, defies her father to become a passionate abolitionist. Mary and Micah are slaves of varying circumstances, who form an instant connection and embark on a tumultuous path to freedom.
All four lives unfold in two beautiful love stories, which eventually collide. Written in gorgeous language that subtly captures the diverse backgrounds of the characters, and interspersed with letters, journals, and dreams, this unforgettable story, rendered in cinematic detail, is about having faith in life's great meaning amidst its various tangles.
Praise For May the Road Rise Up to Meet You…
Praise for MAY THE ROAD RISE UP TO MEET YOU
“This big tale takes us from the world of the Irish Famine to the American Civil War—a wonderful family saga of poignant history, thrilling action, and romance. But what I like best of all is the way Peter Troy writes it: This book is rich, it’s warm, it’s got heart and it’s got guts. I highly recommend it.”
—Edward Rutherfurd, New York Times bestselling author of New York: The Novel and The Rebels of Ireland
“Peter Troy weaves an epic tale of triumph and sorrow in the years before and during the war around the lives and voices of four individuals struggling to survive a world packed with noble hopes and chaotic events. Through the lives of Ethan, Marcella, Mary, and Micah, Troy reminds us again and again why the American Civil War remains the single most important moment in our history. Beautifully told, Troy has given us a story that will be with me for many years to come.”
—Robert Hicks, New York Times bestselling author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country
“May the Road Rise Up to Meet You is a generous and sweeping Civil War saga about Southern slaves and newly arrived immigrants linked by a shared desire for abolition and freedom. Ranging from the clawing hunger of the Irish Famine to the abusive captivity of South Carolina, from rough-and-tumble Five Points to the genteel streets of Richmond, Virginia, this affecting and moving tale links disparate lives of impressive integrity, suffering and triumph, and yields a deeply personal portrait of the immigrants who fought the war and the people they fought it for. A hopeful, magnanimous depiction of America at its most vulnerable.”
—Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter, winner of the Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction
Doubleday, 9780385534482, 400pp.
Publication Date: February 28, 2012
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- All four main characters are greatly influenced by a loved one who has passed away. Describe the significance of each of these relationships and how they impact the still living characters.
- Discuss the impact reading and writing have on of each of the four main character’s lives.
- Each character is assigned their own narrative voice and grammatical structure throughout the book. How and why do they change, either subtly (Ethan, Marcella, Micah), or dramatically (Mary), as their stories progress?
- For each of the four main characters, the Civil War, in a manner of speaking, “makes” them. How does the outbreak of the war alter their lives permanently?
- How are the love stories of Ethan and Marcella, Mary and Micah similar?
- In The Odyssey, Odysseus was said to have spent twenty years away from home. How is his story connected to Ethan’s similar journey?
Society: Each of the four main characters is born into a situation where he or she is instructed in no uncertain terms to understand their “place”. Whether it is at the lowest or highest levels of the societal hierarchy, there are quite specific sets of instructions on how to properly behave so as not to place themselves outside the realm of normalcy.
- Discuss the general restrictions placed upon each character, Mary and Micah as slaves, Marcella as a woman, Ethan as a poor Irishman.
- How is each character reminded by someone close to them to stay within the range of accepted behavior?
- How is the psychological impact of these instructions portrayed in each character?
- How does each character, either secretly or overtly, rebel against those same instructions?
- What are the results of these rebellions and how does it alter the life of each character?
The “Great Hunger” (also called the “Potato Famine”) in Ireland is a generally misunderstood period in history, often being left out completely from American textbooks or covered only for the impact it had on Irish immigration to America. It is estimated that more than one million deaths could be attributed to disease and starvation between the years of 1846-1851, and between death and emigration, Ireland’s population decreased by fully 20% during those few years.
- Considering that Ireland continued to export food to England during the worst years of The Hunger, why is the term “famine” a misnomer, and how does it reflect the notion that the winners write the history books?
- How is Ethan’s family impacted by the rule of the English crown?
- Why might Ethan’s Mam consider the stories Mr. Hanratty tells Ethan to be potentially quite dangerous?
- How does Mr. Hanratty’s statement to Ethan, “If it’s a happy tale yer after, den sure you was bahrn in th’wrong land,” reflect the tragic impact English policies had on Irish attitudes?
- As Ethan views his native land in the increasing distance from onboard the ferry, he begins to understand why Mr. Hanratty would refer to Ireland as “she” or “her” and not “it”. Discuss the emotional impact leaving one’s native land under such circumstances would have on a person. How might that affect how they view their adoptive country in ways good and bad?
The issue of race has been a contentious one in American society, politics and culture from the very early days of the Colonial Age until the present day, often impacting the portrayal of different characters in film and literature through a stereotypical lens.
- How are Micah and Mary different from the stereotypical slave?
- How is their ascent from slavery first a mental journey, then a physical one?
- The range of slave/owner relationships in the book is extensive, from brutality to pseudo-love. How does this reflect the psychological and emotional impact of slavery on both the slaves and their owners?
- How is the relationship that develops between Ethan and Micah made possible? What encounters along their journeys are critical in forming their attitudes towards each other?
The author has said that the book, while set amidst the backdrop of great historical moments, is at its core about faith.
- While faith is never discussed in specific terms, how is Gertie’s stitchin’ in the prologue, and its connection to the final scene, a metaphor for faith?
- If anger, hurt, disappointment, fear and doubt are some of the principle obstacles to faith, how do these elements affect the four main characters? Discuss specific moments when each of them confronts these aspects within themselves and the change, if any, which comes from them.
- What is the significance of the term “frontsways”? Where does it come from originally and how does it apply to the journey of all four characters? (The author recommends the e.e. cummings poem “I thank you God for this most amazing,” for further reflection on the idea of “frontsways”.)
- How is the author’s use of different narrative voices, perspectives, and grammatical structure, a metaphor related to this very theme?