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Fall on Your Knees
Cover of Fall on Your Knees
Fall on Your Knees
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best BookFollowing the curves of history in the first half of the twentieth century, Fall On Your Knees takes us from haunted Cape Breton Island, Nova...
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best BookFollowing the curves of history in the first half of the twentieth century, Fall On Your Knees takes us from haunted Cape Breton Island, Nova...
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  • Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book

    Following the curves of history in the first half of the twentieth century, Fall On Your Knees takes us from haunted Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, through the battle fields of World War One, to the emerging jazz scene of New York city and into the lives of four unforgettable sisters. The mythically charged Piper family--James, a father of intelligence and immense ambition, Materia, his Lebanese child-bride, and their daughters: Kathleen, a budding opera Diva; Frances, the incorrigible liar and hell-bent bad girl; Mercedes, obsessive Catholic and protector of the flock; and Lily, the adored invalid who takes us on a quest for truth and redemption--is supported by a richly textured cast of characters. Together they weave a tale of inescapable family bonds, of terrible secrets, of miracles, racial strife, attempted murder, birth and death, and forbidden love. Moving and finely written, Fall On Your Knees is by turns dark and hilariously funny, a story--and a world--that resonate long after the last page is turned.

    From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    Silent PicturesThey're all dead now.

    Here's a picture of the town where they lived. New Waterford. It's a night bright with the moon. Imagine you are looking down from the height of a church steeple, onto the vivid gradations of light and shadow that make the picture. A small mining town near cutaway cliffs that curve over narrow rock beaches below, where the silver sea rolls and rolls, flattering the moon. Not many trees, thin grass. The silhouette of a colliery, iron tower against a slim pewter sky with cables and supports sloping at forty-five-degree angles to the ground. Railway tracks that stretch only a short distance from the base of a gorgeous high slant of glinting coal, towards an archway in the earth where the tracks slope in and down and disappear. And spreading away from the collieries and coal heaps are the peaked roofs of the miners' houses built row on row by the coal company. Company houses. Company town.

    Look down over the street where they lived. Water Street. An avenue of packed dust and scattered stones that leads out past the edge of town to where the wide, keeling graveyard overlooks the ocean. That sighing sound is just the sea.

    Here's a picture of their house as it was then. White, wood frame with the covered veranda. It's big compared to the miners' houses. There's a piano in the front room. In the back is the kitchen where Mumma died.

    Here's a picture of her the day she died. She had a stroke while cleaning the oven. Which is how the doctor put it. Of course you can't see her face for the oven, but you can see where she had her stockings rolled down for housework and, although this is a black and white picture, her house-dress actually is black since she was in mourning for Kathleen at the time, as well as Ambrose. You can't tell from this picture, but Mumma couldn't speak English very well. Mercedes found her like that, half in half out of the oven like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. What did she plan to cook that day? When Mumma died, all the eggs in the pantry went bad - they must have because you could smell that sulphur smell all the way down Water Street.

    So that's the house at 191 Water Street, New Waterford, Cape Breton Island, in the far eastern province of Nova Scotia, Canada. And that's Ma on the day she died, June 23, 1919.

    Here's a picture of Daddy. He's not dead, he's asleep. You see that armchair he's in? That's the pale green wingback. His hair is braided. That's not an ethnic custom. They were only ethnic on Mumma's side. Those are braids that Lily put in his hair while he was asleep.

    There are no pictures of Ambrose, there wasn't time for that. Here's a picture of his crib still warm.

    Other Lily is in limbo. She lived a day, then died before she could be baptized, and went straight to limbo along with all the other unbaptized babies and the good heathens. They don't suffer, they just sort of hang there effortlessly and unaware. Jesus is known to have gone into limbo occasionally and taken a particularly good heathen out of it and up to heaven. So it is possible. Otherwise....That's why this picture of Other Lily is a white blank.

    Don't worry. Ambrose was baptized.

    Here's one of Mercedes. That opal rosary of hers was basically priceless. An opal rosary, can you imagine? She kept it pinned to the inside of her brassiere, over her heart, at all times when she wasn't using it. Partly for divine protection, partly out of the convenience of never being without the means to say a quick decade of the beads when the spirit moved her, which was often. Although, as Mercedes liked to point out, you can say the rosary with any objects at hand if you find yourself...

About the Author-

  • ANN-MARIE MACDONALD is an author, actor, playwright and broadcaster. She trained as an actor at the National Theatre School of Canada and has appeared in numerous independent Canadian films. She earned a Genie nomination for her role in I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, and won a Gemini Award for Where the Spirit Lives. She has performed in theatres across Canada, appearing in the Mirvish Production of Top Girls.
    Her first solo-authored play, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) won the Chalmers Award, the Governor General's Award, and the Canadian Authors' Association Award. Her other works for the stage include the libretto for the chamber opera Nigredo Hotel, book and lyrics for the musical Anything that Moves (which garnered several Dora Awards, including Outstanding New Musical), and Belle Moral: A Natural History.
    Ann-Marie's first novel, Fall on Your Knees, was a critically acclaimed international bestseller. It won the Commonwealth Prize, was a finalist for the Giller Prize, and won the People's Choice Award and the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year. In 2002 it became an Oprah's Book Club selection. It has been translated into 19 languages. Her second novel, The Way the Crow Flies, was an international bestseller, a finalist for the Giller Prize, and a Good Morning America Book Club pick. It has been translated into 13 languages.
    She lives in Toronto with her partner and their two children.


Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 31, 1997
    Not a single line is superfluous in this richly layered tale of the secrets within several generations of a Canadian family. Both feverishly intense and darkly humorous, the drama of the Piper family emerges amidst a backdrop of racial tension and social change in Canada during the first half of the 20th century. Piano tuner James Piper dotes on his beautiful and musically talented eldest daughter, Kathleen, almost to the exclusion of everyone else, including his Lebanese wife and his other daughters. After Kathleen's death during childbirth and his wife's suicide a few days later, James forbids any mention of Kathleen's name. But the bitter fruit of illicit passion will continue to take its toll on Kathleen's survivors. Though the mortality rate in this family sometimes challenges credibility, playwright and actress MacDonald's ambitious first novel displays a remarkable assurance of style, pacing and plotting as unexpected twists propel a complex story that builds inexorably to tragedy. MacDonald uses the surface tension and love between James and his daughters to explore the repercussions of repression, sin, guilt and violence that simmer beneath the family's delicately maintained equilibrium. Her gifts for character development, comic dialogue and vivid evocation of social milieu and specific background detail-from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to New York City in the 1920s-add texture to an entrancing narrative. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternate selections; author tour. (Apr.) FYI: MacDonald began this book as a play but finished it five years later as her first work of fiction. Fall on Your Knees was previously published in Canada, where it rose to the top of the bestseller lists.

  • The Vancouver Review "... utterly compelling -- a brilliant take on the black themes of racism, physical and emotional battery, sexual abuse, suicide, and murder."
  • Toronto Star "Stunning...The book and the talent behind it are big. The story is riveting, the characters achingly human, and the writing will take your breath away...[MacDonald] has leapt into the first rank of fiction writers."
  • Montreal Gazette "A delicious story, one of those sweeping family sagas to take on summer vacation and savor.... MacDonald is a master of exciting story-telling, of suspense and surprise. She has a dramatic touch that can elicit gasps from readers."
  • Publisher's Weekly starred review February 24th, 1997 "Not a single line is superfluous in this richly layered tale of the secrets within several generations of a Canadian family."
  • The London Observer "Here is an explosive mix of family feuds and incest, musical dreams and melodrama, all shot through with a fierce guilt... Fall On Your Knees is a heady, haunting brew, carefully structured, witty and distinctive."
  • Sunday Telegraph "Some wonderful writing has come out of Canada in recent years from such authors as Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood. Now they are joined by the multi-talented Ann-Marie MacDonald... She is already a successful actress & playwright. It seems almost unfair that she should have written a brilliant first novel."

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