While I've read a host of books about early 1900s immigration, The Walking People is a story about a different generation of immigrants -the Irish who came to America in the early 60s. Greta's family lives in a tiny, nearly abandoned town in Western Ireland, near the sea and not much else. Life during Greta's childhood was much the same way it had been for hundreds of years, they were warmed by a turf fire and ate by candlelight. 'Tinkers" or "Traveling People" walked the highways and made a living by doing odd jobs, staying in camps along the way. Greta's early interactions with these Traveling People will reverberate and result in relationships that last her lifetime.
The Walking People is about, first and foremost, family. What we do for them and what we inadvertently do to them - and not just the children we raise, but the family we were raised by. Greta's very close relationship with her mother and sister, and how that relationship changed, influenced so much of the way she lived her life. I was sometimes frustrated by the choices she made while at the same time I was sympathetic to why she made those choices. She's an interesting character, this Greta, naive and yet wise - thoughtful and stubborn, and I think Keane did an excellent job of rounding out all her characters. I think I liked reading about the family Greta grew up in more than I liked reading about the family she raised, but maybe that's because I just liked reading about life in Ireland more.
One unique thing about this novel that I appreciated, was its use of time periods. Typically, I am annoyed when we start at the end of a story and then move backwards, because I feel like it rips out the footing from under the plot to already know how the story ended. But somehow, in the Walking People, this devise just completely intrigued me. Even though I knew that certain people would end up being together, I was thrilled to discover how it all happened. So three cheers for that.
I think that for a debut novel, The Walking People is pretty darn amazing, even if the end left me feeling somewhat hanging. If you can overlook the sometimes harsh language, I think you'll appreciate this story that takes you from one side of the Atlantic to the other, down beneath the streets of New York City and back, and the beautiful language leaves you pining for an Irish home that you never even had.