Book Reviews

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry

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Released: March 2020
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Pages: 272
Rating: 4/5

Even when you come out of bloodshed and disaster, in the end you have got to learn to live.big-blue-divider-hi


From the publisher:

Winona is a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole.

Living with Thomas and John on the farm they work in 1870s Tennessee, she is educated and loved, forging a life for herself beyond the violence and dispossession of her past. But the fragile harmony of her unlikely family unit, in the aftermath of the Civil War, is soon threatened by a further traumatic event, one which Winona struggles to confront, let alone understand.

Told in Sebastian Barry’s rare and masterly prose, A Thousand Moons is a powerful, moving study of one woman’s journey, of her determination to write her own future, and of the enduring human capacity for love.


Given that A Thousand Moons is a very character-driven story, I think I was at a slight disadvantage at first because I hadn’t read the previous book. Luckily it didn’t take me too long to feel like I was old friends with the entire “found family” the story focuses on.

Often times the family you end up choosing becomes more important than the family you were born with and the group in this book was a perfect example of that. Being “other” is hard enough as it is now, never mind what it must have been like during the Reconstruction era. Those who are shunned from their communities often find their place in a chosen family and it can be lifesaving.

All of the characters in this book saved each other’s lives in one way or another time and time again. Even though all of them had suffered truly dark pasts, you could feel the love and warmth radiating from their little home. I completely fell for this group and was eager to learn more about them, so much so that I’m going to be purchasing a copy of the first book.

The writing style of this installment may not be for everyone as it’s somewhat ambiguous and stilted at times, but once I got used to it I felt the story flowed well. The plot wasn’t immediately evident, yet because of how endearing the characters were I would have been fine with the book being nothing other than us seeing into their lives. Once everything started to click into place plot-wise, though, I began to realize just how much darkness was out there waiting to destroy what little happiness this wonderful family had all finally found.

The last few chapters of this book were gritty and intense, with one chapter in particular leaving me feeling as if my heart had leapt into my chest. Let me tell ya, the anxiety and worry for these characters was real. Some of it may be subject matter that is rough for certain readers, but none of it was described in graphic detail.

The lack of detail may have been what made the scenes that much more intense. By only seeing the aftermath of the events and not knowing exactly what happened, your imagination is left to fill in the details. It was hard as a reader to grapple with everything they were experiencing, let alone what it must have been like for the characters! What came across the strongest as I read these scenes is that no matter what a world against them threw their way, these people were resilient and loyal. With a family like that by your side I think you can survive just about anything.


Something that nagged at me while reading A Thousand Moons is that the author is most certainly not Lakota nor is he a woman. Once I realized that the book was being told from her point of view I was ready to be disappointed at best and outright offended at worst.

No one could ever truly write from the point of view of a post-civil war Lakota teenager, I suppose, but I still felt a bit uneasy when I learned the author is an white male from Ireland. However, in the end I thought the narration was fine overall. I still don’t think Own Voices should be written by others, but for an old white guy the author did all right. I’ll definitely be reading more of his works, especially if it includes these characters.



2 thoughts on “A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry”

  1. Excellent review. 🙂 A character-driven story with focus on family ties sounds exactly my kind of story. Glad to know that despite being a white male, the author is able to portray Own Voices characters genuinely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read his “Secret Scripture” which I really liked, and I strongly recommend it. However, I never read anything else of his, mostly because he always seemed to write about the same families from the same place in Ireland. The McNulty family seem to be his resource. I was hoping he’d change track with this but it seems not.

    Liked by 1 person

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