It's always a treat to find a new Delany novel, and MORE THAN SORROW again demonstrates her versatility and panache. Foreign correspondent Hannah Manning, recovering from brain injuries from an IED in Afghanistan, has retreated to her sister's organic farm in the picturesque Prince Edward County section of southern Ontario. She has left behind a painful secret and a boyfriend killed in the attack that wounded her. Debilitating headaches (named "Omar" after one of her attackers) slow her recovery, but in the quiet countryside, perhaps she can heal with time.
With her inability to pitch in with the chores and the pampering by her sister and niece, she doesn't endear herself to the man of the house, who sees her as a drain on their resources. Farming is a precarious life, and an extra burden isn't appreciated. To help her pass the time, he allows Hannah grudging access to old family papers in the attic. His forebears were Loyalists, British who fled the American Revolution to come to Upper Canada for a new life.
Able to take short walks, Hannah is surprised to find a shy Afghan refugee nearby as a guest of a middle-aged couple, the Harrisons, who have an interest in the history and culture of the Middle East. Hila, a traumatized burn victim, was the only survivor in a murderous attack on her family. The farm community seems a safe place for both kindred souls. Hila and Hannah form a mutual bond from their ordeals.
As Hannah pores over the old records, another story emerges from the distant past, woven seamlessly into a nail-biting time-shifting duet. Maggie and Hamish Macgregor and their daughter had a peaceful life in the Mohawk Valley until the American Revolution set neighbour against neighbour. Hamish leaves to fight with the British forces, while his family faces the stigma of being enemies in their own land:
Maggie's father was a member of the Colonial Assembly. A constant stream of men passed through their house, and all the talk was about raising an army to fight the forces of the English King. The Americans, Maggie's mother explained, had declared their independence from Britain and they would have to fight to keep it. "There is no more King," she explained. "All men are now equal." "Women too?" "Don't be foolish."
The once wealthy Maggie, shunned by her own parents, flees north across the border to an unknown future. As Hannah plummets into poverty, she guards with her life her only treasure, a pair of diamond earrings.
Hannah's headaches take a nasty turn when she goes to the old root cellar where the produce is stored. Imagining a woman in the dank mist, she loses consciousness and hours pass before she is discovered. A murder in the neighbourhood has rocked the community, and she is suspect number one. Did a flashback made her perceive the victim as a threat?
Delany embroiders several themes, paralleling the Loyalist refugees with today's displaced people. Canada prides itself on its multi-culturalism and tolerance, but for some, the gates have been opened too wide. Many ethnics born in Canada regard themselves as equal citizens, such as the Muslim neurologist who tries to help Hannah regain her confidence.
The placid and picturesque setting provides a contrasting backdrop for the horrors of modern wartime as well as the 18th century. Weapons may have changed, but torture, humiliation, and savagery will not disappear. The Loyalists paid a high price to find safe homes in Canada the same way that refugees now come here for a second chance at life.
A master at characterization, Delany thrusts rapiers of golden dialogue to reveal and enhance complex motivations. Especially poignant is Hannah's tender relationship to her young niece Lily and their faith in each other:
"That would be nice." I leaned on the girl as I struggled to my feet. I opened my left eye, just a crack, and looked into her face. Pretty and concerned. Immediately after breakfast she'd gone out to tend to her beloved horses, and hay was caught in the back of her blond braid, and a streak of mud crossed her left cheek. She was all knees and elbows, bony chest, long thin legs, arms like sticks, luscious black lashes, and a perpetually laughing mouth. I thought she was incredibly beautiful.
Pain, power, and redemption. You can't ask more than that. Although this novel appears to be a standalone, Hannah would make a strong and sensitive series character.