Title: Gladdy’s Wake
Author: B. K. Anderson
Publication Year: 2010
Source: Review copy from the publisher
From the cover:
Gladys Sage escaped the backwoods of Northern Ontario, leaving behind the body of her stepfather, to arrive in New York and the world of political revolutionaries. Hired to find her is Pinkerton detective James Kelly, a recent Irish immigrant mainly interested in easy money, drink, and women. Going undercover among the radical followers of Emma Goldman, James’ search for Gladdy becomes a passion that will affect the Kelly family for generations. Nawal Habib, James’ granddaughter, has reinvented herself as a devout Muslim. Five times a day she prays toward Mecca, proving that she has left her early life as Janie Kelly, teenage runaway and outcast, behind. When her husband is killed and her son disappears in New York, suspected of involvement in a terrorist plot, everything she has built comes into question. She has no choice but to turn to the family she fled decades before. Nawal’s search will lead to the secrets kept by her grandfather – a hidden family history that casts her son’s radicalism in a new light, and begins with James Kelly’s obsession with the mysterious Gladys Sage.
This is one of those cases where you really need to avoid judging the book by its cover.
Both the storyline and the characters in Gladdy’s Wake are wonderful. Let’s start with the storyline: the book is narrated primarily by Nawal Habib, who was born Janie Kelly. I say primarily because while she’s really the only true narrator, she’s also the frame story for another narrative – that of James Kelly, which he wrote down for future generations to read and understand the family secrets. I really enjoyed the way that these two narratives played off each other. It kept up my interest in what would happen and also lent itself towards revealing the parallels between the different generations of the characters.
Speaking of the characters, they too were fascinating. I fell in love with Gladys (aka Gladdy) just as James Kelly did, and I was intrigued by Janie’s metamorphosis into the devout personage of Nawal. There was also a case of secondary – and even tertiary – characters who really fleshed out the story and brought out different aspects of the narrative and of the overarching themes. At times, some of them fell into a stereotype, but this was usually short and didn’t overtake their entire character.
If you have to pick one book to read, particularly historical fiction, make it Gladdy’s Wake. It’s one of my favourite books so far this year.
You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.