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Astray Hardcover – October 30, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Inspired by various newspaper articles and stories from the last four centuries, Booker Prize finalist Donoghue’s (Room, 2010) masterful new short story collection explores the ways people’s lives can take unexpected and unprepared-for turns. A fallen woman in Victorian England supports herself and her child by the only means available to her until her younger brother comes up with another option. As the Civil War rages on, a slave and his mistress plot a daring escape. A bitter Puritan seeks revenge upon two women who spurned him. A woman sails toward Canada to join her husband, not knowing he’s fallen gravely ill with cholera. A lawyer sets his sights on a wealthy young widow who seeks his help. A young woman makes a startling discovery about her politically powerful father after his death in New York City at the dawn of the twentieth century. Donoghue details the particular historical source that inspired her at the end of each story, and she discusses how each one fits in with her overall theme in the afterword. Revolutionary-era New Jersey, Civil War–era Texas, the gold rush Yukon, and many other settings come to life in this wonderfully imaginative, transporting collection. --Kristine Huntley

Review

"Time and again, Emma Donoghue writes books that are unlike anything I have ever seen before, and ASTRAY is no exception. There is such a deep and compassionate imagination at work in every story in this collection that ASTRAY feels almost like an act of clairvoyance."―-Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder

"Emma Donoghue is one of the great literary ventriloquists of our time. Her imagination is kaleidoscopic. She steps borders and boundaries with great ease and style. In her hands the centuries dissolve, and then they crystallize back again into powerful words on the page."―Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

"This book demonstrates once again that there's little she can't do well; indeed, the afterword is as moving as the stories....The short story can be a precious, self-enclosed form, but in Donoghue's bold hands, it crosses continents and centuries to claim kinship with many kinds of people.... Another exciting change of pace from the protean Donoghue."―Kirkus Reviews

"...Masterful.... Revolutionary-era New Jersey, Civil War-era Texas, the gold rush Yukon, and many other settings come to life in this wonderfully imaginative, transporting collection."―Kristine Huntley, Booklist (Starred Review)

"Donoghue applies her talents for characterization and depth of feeling over and over again as she documents restless wanderers and lost souls across four generations, each in a world as strange and real as the last."―Emily Temple, Flavorpill

"Donoghue's affinity for yesteryear's untold tales is charming, and her talent for dialect is hard to overstate, which is why it's the first-person stories in ASTRAY that shine brightest....Each and every one of Donoghue's characters leaves an impression."―Time

"Donoghue establishes a distinct voice and person [and] the stories are vivid, curious, and honest..."―Publishers Weekly

"[The] tales...feel like discoveries, stories that were waiting to be told."―Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly

"This collection is filled with such acts of imaginative sympathy-each chiseling all that one can, from what Donoghue aptly describes as 'the shadowy mass of all that's been lost.'"―Mike Fischer, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"The stories are taut, vivid and memorable, and the collection reveals Donoghue's remarkable gift for placing herself in the minds of people who otherwise might be lost to history."―Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch

"The stories are showcases for a wide range of speaking voices studded with period vernacular."―Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"Fans of... Room will recognize the same imaginative flexibility and ventriloquism in ASTRAY, only multiplied and lightly patinated.... A refreshing break from the trend of linked collections; each story is entirely discrete, and strong enough to be read in isolation."―Holloway McCandless, Shelf Awareness

"Haunting.... These seekers and their stories pull you in-and stir your heart."―People (4 stars)

"Splendid.... "[An] original and compelling collection."―Mameve Medwed, The Boston Globe

"From England, Canada and the United States, Donoghue has created a restless world of travelers, finders and seekers, as well as a book that is an interactive narrative hybrid, one that gets us lost in other lives, that probes our history, that reveals the artist behind the word and that ultimately shows us something fresh, unsettling and enduring about ourselves."―Caroline Leavitt, The San Francisco Chronicle

"Sensitive and intuitive...moves fearlessly between centuries and between genders.... Donoghue displays a ventriloquist's uncanny ability to slip in and out of voices....[and she] reveals them all, in their place of exile, with gentle yet devastating truth."―Brooke Allen, The New York Times Book Review

"Donoghue is...something of a literary archaeologist, speaking in voices that have been lost.... Donoghue's empathic imagination is remarkable...so convincing[] that the reader feels these stories could be actual historical narratives."―Patricia Hagen, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A rich roster of tales [and] a real adventure in reading.... Donoghue's gift for storytelling is remarkable...."Sandy Leonard, Lambda Literary

"Donoghue is gifted at imagining narrators from all walks of life.... Anyone who appreciates a well-told tale will enjoy these 14 short stories. It's perfect for the bedside table or the quiet commute-rich tales by a writer near the top of her game."―Rob Merrill, Associated Press

"Gentle yet devastating..."―The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

"Donoghue's ASTRAY masters the long reach of short tales.... What is most impressive about these stories is her ability to plumb historical footnotes for timeless emotional resonance and reanimate 'real people who left traces in the historical record.'"―Heller McAlpin, The Washington Post

"[An] intriguing new story collection...Change is inevitable for the migrant-and for us all. In ASTRAY, Donoghue makes us tremble at the idea and revel in its possibilities."―Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

"We were interested to see if [Donoghue's] third-person narration skills translated well into the oftentimes more complicated vernacular of adults hailing from different eras and different corners of the globe.... In our opinion, she succeeded."―The Huffington Post

"Dazzling.... [A]ll the voices are so distinct, the plots so diverse, that the reading experience is a bit like nibbling from a long, strange, trippy literary buffet. Comedy, history, legal drama, political intrigue, adventure...all served up side by side in one volume. It's wonderful."―Maggie Galehouse, The Houston Chronicle

"Reading ASTRAY is a bit like watching a magician create a wondrous illusion before you and then reveal a few enticing hints as to how she did it."―Tarra Gaines, Houston Cultural Map

"A well-written collection of short stories that go back and forth between despair and hope."―Bobby Blanchard, The Daily Texan

"Donoghue breathes life into stories that seem like nothing more than footnotes in the grand scheme of history, but are important reminders of all the little things we miss looking at the big picture."―Sharra Rosichan, The Tennessean

"Her new and splendid collection...is all about breaking through barriers."―Boston Globe

"These stories are striking for their range and freedom.... One senses cumulatively throughout this book the capacious curiosity of Emma Donoghue's mind, and the breadth of her knowledge.... Never dull, these stories illuminate worlds like a magic lantern....Donoghue's imagination can alight upon almost anything and revivify it."―Claire Messud, The New York Review of Books

"ASTRAY is an exceptional uniting of history and imagination."―Jake Cline, The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

"A beautifully rendered collection of hauntingly vivid short stories.... Redolent with historical details, Donoghue's tales are enthralling.... Each story is so complete that there's a sense of mourning as one comes to a close, but also a thrill as to what she will come up with next.... She could not have assembled a richer cast of characters. We sense Donoghue's compassion for all of them-even the least appealing ones like the ultra-judgmental Englishman who settles in Yarmouth or the Illinois counterfeiters who conspired to steal Abraham Lincoln's corpse. Gorgeously written and thoroughly engrossing, ASTRAY captures the uncertainty and complexity of settling into unknown turf. The voices of her characters reverberate in our heads, long after putting the book down."―Claudia Puig, USA Today (4 stars)

"[Donoghue is] one of those rare literary alchemists who can deliver a story that is both sensationally suspenseful and richly satisfying in the artistry of its sentences and the depth and seriousness of its themes."―Ed Tarkington and Chapter16.org, Nashville Scene

"Emma Donoghue's characters seem thoroughly unique and alive."―Tobias Carroll, Time Out New York

"Illuminating.... [and] affecting..."―Eileen Weiner, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"The characters in Emma Donoghue's solid collection ASTRAY are on the move and similarly are sure to move readers."―Natalie Danford, American Way

"A strong collection.... Donoghue is first rate.... Real people can't go backward, but writers can, and Donoghue does so with great success."―Susan Balée, The Hudson Review

"The author of Room displays her mastery at inventing the speech of the most unlikely characters in this story collection.... How do people sound? That's one of the primary concerns of a writer. Get that right, and everything follows. Donoghue gets it right, as anyone who's read Room would know.... Donoghue reads like she takes a dry eraser and deletes chunks of letters and words-there's something constantly missing, and parts of the world are a mystery. But isn't that how we think to ourselves, as Joyce demonstrated, skipping over the river of thoughts and refusing to bother explaining the obvious or the visual? With such ingenuity, Donoghue achieves the effect of creating magic and wonder in the real world. To follow Donoghue into the unknown is one of the most pleasurable experiences I can think of."―Jimmy So, The Daily Beast

"Wildly informative and engaging.... Donoghue...throws the windows of the world open in fourteen stories of wanderlust, exploration, and possibilities promised by new and unknown lands.... By giving us true stories of wanderers and vagabonds in search of broader vistas, Donoghue has given narrative weight to both the journey and the destination. And in offering up history newly made into stories, Donoghue makes the journey of literary reinvention into its own reward."―Jessica Freeman-Slade, The Millions

"In...ASTRAY...imagination becomes possibility.... Moving through the centuries with her short stories, Donoghue turns everyday situations and period-piece slice-of-life situations into something of which O. Henry and Paul Harvey would be proud. Indeed, some of these tales start with a little sleight of word, poking our emotions in one way, then slowly twisting them into another direction before giving us the real story. You never know where these tales will end, and that's a good thing."―Terri Schlichenmeyer, Washington Blade

"A marvel of imagination, in which Donoghue utilizes items she's found over the years...to create unforgettable stories about change..."―Nina Sankovitch, The Huffington Post
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316206296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316206297
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Emma Donoghue gets into the heads and hearts of her characters as few other writers do. In "Astray," her new short story collection, she adopts the points of view of a wide range of characters in different eras, places and circumstances. Memorable characters include a Calamity Jane-like woman in the American West who retrieves an errant husband out on a bender; a Creole girl who has a dramatic coming of age in antebellum Louisiana; a trainer who bonded with Jumbo before the circus elephant was shipped off from England; and a young Hessian soldier compelled to prove his `manhood' while serving with the British army in New Jersey in 1776.

In a revealing Afterword, Donoghue says the idea for "Astray" came from her own experience as a two-time emigrant. She moved from her native Dublin to England for higher education, and from England to Canada for love and a family. She knows what it feels like to be a "stray" or "astray," and tells the stories of dozens of characters who are either departing, in transit or arriving at some destination, whether a physical place or a key point in their lives. The 14 stories are divided into those three categories: Departures, In Transit, and Arrivals and Aftermaths.

Each story is based on a historical person or event Donoghue uncovered in some old newspaper or archive. She brings these people and events to life by imagining their backstories and motivations. Many of the stories are told in the first person, and she is particularly adept at inhabiting the characters' psyches and expressing their feelings in the dialects, idioms and cadences of their time, place and culture.

I found "Counting the Days" and "The Lost Seed" especially good. "Counting the Days" is about a family fleeing the Irish famine of the 1840s.
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This is one of the best story collections I have ever read. I would almost suggest this: read the "Afterword" first. The stories are varied, very varied. And each is based upon actual incidents. The opening story is fascinating, about a man who saves an elephant from cruetly. Then there's a story about exhuming Abraham Lincoln's body for the purposes of extortion. One of my favorites--and I laughed all the way through it--is "The Lost Seed," set in 1639 in the Plymouth Colony. Richard Berry narrates his angst about not finding himself a bride. It is just so funny. And then there is the last story about a lesbian couple, artists, one white, one black, now living in an assisted living situation where one has Alzheimer's. It is so touching. Ms. Donoghue has such a range of styles. This is a book I will be giving as a gift. There is absolutely no way that a serious reader could give this wonderful book a low rating.
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Donoghue's new book Astray is about voyages, the voyages we take when migrating to a new life, a new country, or a new beginning. As an immigrant herself, Donoghue really captures the mindset of the transient wandering into a new land and becoming someone else. Her stories are based on facts taken from archives of people from as early as the 1800s and even Jumbo the elephant who went abroad to America in 1882, which was by far the most touching story. The book is comprised of short fictionalized accounts of these voyages and for the most part are well written. Do not expect any major character development (as they are short stories) and the book, a mere 288 pages, was a fast read. Great book for a book club, but it's not unforgettable.
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As quoted from Virgil,the characters in these stories have left their homes to find varying degrees of sanctuary in another world. Each story is matched with its historical inspiration. I found some stories resonated with me more than others. In particular, I was struck by the story of a woman forced into "middle class" prostitution by the death of her parents. She seeks a new start for herself, her brother, and her daughter. Other nominees would be a young Creole girl yearning for Paris and a young woman joining her fiancé who does not know he is dying of typhus.
The stories present very simply, but this can be deceptive. After closing the book, I find myself pondering the future for these characters. A character to tease my mind is high praise for me. A book that drives one by the wind is always a good choice.
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Even though I read reviews on this book before buying it, the subject matter was still such a pleasant surprise. Emma Donoghue, to me, is a literary genius--same as I feel about Wally Lamb. She took newspaper and/or written events from yesteryear and concocted a dialogue between the characters that could have transpired leading up to the recorded event. The conversations she created are perfect and so real that you want to believe that this is what actually happened beforehand.
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This is a book about minor events in history, often involving travel of some sort. It is a collection of short stories inspired by historical events of a personal nature - minor, intriguing, not widely known. The problem, for me, is that the author writes as if the event, in itself, is enough to power the story. The only addition, in almost every case, is an attempt at creating an authentic voice for the central character. The result is a series of flat vignettes, each one devoid of characterization, dramatic drive, narrative power or any other common elements that make fiction gripping. Each story is followed by a short account of the event that inspired it and it is telling that these accounts, for me, were more interesting to read than the preceding story.
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