All I wish for is a good story well-told and The Punishing Journey of Arthur Delaney by Bob Kroll delivered that magnificently.
Arthur Delaney didn’t think he was able to raise his three children after his wife died so he allowed himself to succumb to religious/righteous pleas to fight for the Union Army – and to place his three children into the care of an orphanage owner. The war and three years in a prisoner-of-war prison changed his outlook on life and his opinion about raising his children. When released, Delaney set out to find his children, restore his family, and make things right again. The orphanage owner, though, had indentured the children as farm workers and house servants. And as they had been sold on to other farms and households around Canada, his children’s locations are unknown. Arthur Delaney begins a 20 year journey/adventure throughout Canada’s eastern and maritime provinces, chasing down rumours and information to find his children,
The book could easily have been called The Adventures and Psychological Torment of Arthur Delaney and while a lot of the book focuses on the interesting characters and settings of the journey, the author manages to keep Delaney’s torment/self-punishment and the goal of finding his children at the core of the story.
The writing is easy to read and flows well. The reader is given a clear sense of the simplicity of living conditions and the harsh climate in eastern Canada in the late 1800s as well as the economic struggle experienced by most. It was a relatively short/quick read and the author could well have enriched the story by telling us more about each of the three children’s struggles, initially in the orphanage and then in their respective placements. And maybe more of the orphanage owner’s story and the motivations behind her decisions. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was fully absorbed by both the story and the writing. I certainly came to care enough about the characters to want a happy ending.
Lingering notes A few days after finishing the book I’m still left with a clear feeling of the hard life experienced post Civil War, the lack of gratitude for the sacrifices made by Delaney, and his tenacity to continue the search to apologise and make things right for his family.