The Eulogist

The Eulogist

A Novel

Book - 2019
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From the author of The Water Dancers and Good Family, an exquisitely crafted novel, set in Ohio in the decades leading to the Civil War, that illuminates the immigrant experience, the injustice of slavery, and the debts human beings owe to one another, witnessed through the endeavors of one Irish-American family.

Cheated out of their family estate in Northern Ireland after the Napoleonic Wars, the Givens family arrives in America in 1819. But in coming to this new land, they have lost nearly everything. Making their way west they settle in Cincinnati, a burgeoning town on the banks of the mighty Ohio River whose rise, like the Givenses' own, will be fashioned by the colliding forces of Jacksonian populism, religious evangelism, industrial capitalism, and the struggle for emancipation.

After losing their mother in childbirth and their father to a riverboat headed for New Orleans, James, Olivia, and Erasmus Givens must fend for themselves. Ambitious James eventually marries into a prosperous family, builds a successful business, and rises in Cincinnati society. Taken by the spirit and wanderlust, Erasmus becomes an itinerant preacher, finding passion and heartbreak as he seeks God. Independent-minded Olivia, seemingly destined for spinsterhood, enters into a surprising partnership and marriage with Silas Orpheus, a local doctor who spurns social mores.

When her husband suddenly dies from an infection, Olivia travels to his family home in Kentucky, where she meets his estranged brother and encounters the horrors of slavery firsthand. After abetting the escape of one slave, Olivia is forced to confront the status of a young woman named Tilly, another slave owned by Olivia's brother-in-law. When her attempt to help Tilly ends in disaster, Olivia tracks down Erasmus, who has begun smuggling runaways across the river--the borderline between freedom and slavery.

As the years pass, this family of immigrants initially indifferent to slavery will actively work for its end--performing courageous, often dangerous, occasionally foolhardy acts of moral rectitude that will reverberate through their lives for generations to come.

Publisher: New York, NY :, William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers,, [2019]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780062839893
Branch Call Number: FIC GAMB
Characteristics: 310 pages ; 24 cm


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Oct 13, 2019

This is the story of the Given's family who immigrated to America from Ireland. They arrive with next to nothing. We follow the three children, two boys & a girl. It's set in the early 1800's & is a tale about slavery, lack of women's rights & religious codes of the time. An average read.

ArapahoeChristineS May 06, 2019

This slow paced and meandering book is difficult to review. Well written with an interesting perspective, this novel touches on many subjects (family, slavery, the underground railroad, religious hypocrisy, women's role in society at the time, immigration), although it doesn't dig deep into any. The main character seems mostly ambivalent and unaffected by the things she goes through and witnesses, but actually her personality is just that she's not a passionate or overly emotional person; I appreciated that because is rare trait in a novel. The first half is very slow but I thought this was a unique and interesting story.

Nov 30, 2018

Following the death of their mother and abandoned by their father, a family of Irish immigrants begin their young lives anew in Cincinnati: James Givens, the eldest, dreams of launching his own candle-making business despite their scant resources; flighty younger brother Erasmus is convinced his calling is to preach the word of God; and Olivia, who at the moment doesn't appear to have any prospects more promising than as a children's tutor, but proves to be the link that keeps them all bound together through the years. Geography is crucial to the plot, as the nearby Ohio river delineates the slave-holding state of Kentucky to the south from the free north, and all three Givens children become connected, in one way or another, to aiding the enslaved toward a path to freedom.

With a steady pace and few climactic scenes, the plot seemed to lack a traditional story arc and any overall sense of excitement. Even when Olivia experiences a terrible, traumatic event, she seems afterward surprisingly unfazed. However, I enjoyed it, the writing is good, and I appreciated reading about a place (Ohio) and time (pre-Civil War) that I've often found to be underrepresented in works taking place in the 19th century as most focus on the Civil War itself or the period immediately following.


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