Ananias by James Case

Ananias was one of the best books I read last year. Why I am only writing about it now is a whole other story, not nearly as interesting as the story of Ananias.

This novel was inspired by the author’s obsession with family genealogy. Ananias Case was a real person, the great-great-great grandfather of James Case, and this is the story of how and why he came to Newfoundland in 1826.

The book starts with a brutal scene involving a shovel, but ends with a tenderness between two brothers who realize they will never see each other again. They both need to leave the country immediately after what they’ve done. The younger of these men is Ananias.

The expression on John’s face was not contorted with fear or regret over the act committed, but with the deep sadness of knowing he would never lay eyes on me again. He held me at arm’s length with a hand on each of my shoulders, as if to burn my face into his memory. Then he pulled me close in such an embrace that I have never gathered from any man.

(An aside for Jane Austen fans: Ananias’ brother John Case sailed with Charles Austen: “The master, Captain Charles Austen, was legendary–far more at the time than his late sister who had caused such a sensation among the officers’ wives with her ironic parodies.“)

So Ananias finds himself in Carbonear Newfoundland; alone, with nothing, knowing he can never go back to see his family, and knowing he might always be looking back over his shoulder.

Fortunately for Ananias, he is a likable and capable young man; he is quickly offered a job and makes some friends.

“It’s a rugged place, Mr. Case. Cold and wild. Now Carbonear have been built up since I been goin’. Big as compared t’ many of the villages in Cornwall, but rough–everything just thrown together. A pile of grey wood boards like nobody haves any intention of stayin’.”

Nevermore Press put together a two-part book launch for Ananias in which James Case presents two short slideshows: Part 1 is on the settings in the novel, and Part 2 is about the real life people and events that take place in the book. If you’re a history buff or just interested in more detail about the people and places in the book, I urge you to watch; James provides pictures of the villages and landscapes, old maps and documents, and at the end of Part 2 the oldest tombstone in the Methodist graveyard of Carbonear (1832) – that of James’ great-great-great grandmother Grace.

James Case is a self-professed stickler for accuracy, and the reader benefits from this – you are never in doubt as to the time and place as each chapter is well marked; from Wanderwell 1826 and The Traflagar Way 1825, to Bemister Hill 1827, and Flathead 1832. (Among many others.)

But Ananias is about so much more than history and facts. Ananias–the man–was born in 1808 into a close-knit family who had obvious affection for one another. He meets a poor man and his son on his journey and does what he can to help them out. His friendship with Will in Newfoundland is playful and affectionate. His desire to be polite and fit in is endearing; at times he feels his British manners are too formal for such a laid-back, friendly place. “English formality confronted Irish and West Country hospitality here.”

I can’t let this go without a word about the dialogue, which is part of what helps to keep the story light. The characters have been given just the right amount of dialect – enough to give you the flavour of it without slowing you down. It’s funny at times, and playful. For example, the guilt and worry Ananias feels over the crime he committed back in England must weigh heavily, but the author reminds us of it with a light touch: “Methodist guilt, I thought as my brain struggled to switch topics, has as many triggers as Catholic guilt, but with far less opportunity for regular purging.” And the dialogue between Ananias and Will is fun.

“I’m thinking of leaving the firm,” I confided to Will.

“Glad to know ye’re thinking. I knows far too many never thinks,” replied Will.

“My apprenticeship is done.”

“Ye be movin’ on I take it.”

“Not far. Might take up teaching.”

“Curious…”

“How so?”

“I was thinkin’ to take up learnin’.”

Much of the brilliance of this book is in the meticulously researched and rich details of the places, characters and the time in which they lived. It’s the type of book I would like to quote for you from beginning to end. This is not serious, distant historical fiction – it’s funny and engaging and the characters feel alive. I feel sorry to think these people are no longer around.

Further Reading:

Charis Cotter: “But never mind these well-researched details—you’ll get lost in the story about a man in search of a new life, at a time when the world remains deeply inequitable, unstable and fast-changing.”

Interview with Ted Blades

Another book by Nevermore Press I’ve enjoyed is Broken Symmetry by Rosalie Osmond

From the Acknowledgments I learned that Paul Butler performed the “critical first edit” on Ananias, author of The Widow’s Fire and Mina’s Child. (Hi Paul!)

Thank you to Nevermore Press for providing me with a copy of this fabulous book!

16 thoughts on “Ananias by James Case

  1. Jane says:

    You had me hooked at Newfoundland! This does sound terrific, I love books based on factual evidence and the dialogue and playful banter are wonderful. I’ve had a quick look at the launch but will have a better look later, it’s straight on my list, thank you!

    • Naomi says:

      It’s a relatively new publisher. Yes, the middle grade books look great! I keep wishing I had time to read more children’s books.

  2. wadholloway says:

    I’m glad this novel worked. Too often, people retire and write the one great story of their family and it’s a complete dud. You don’t tell us where Ananias came from, but I guess it was England, seeing as he came over on an English naval vessel (Charles Austen was later an Admiral in the Royal Navy).

    • Naomi says:

      Oh, whoops! I don’t mention it until nearly the end, but it’s not very obvious. Yes, England it is!
      I really had no idea what to expect from this book, but I decided to trust the publisher, and I’m glad I did!

  3. annelogan17 says:

    This sounds great-I am definitely not a fan of serious historical fiction! Which is probably why I’m loving all these female-centric historical fiction releases lately…

    • Naomi says:

      Thank you for reminding me to comment on that… Obviously, the protagonist in Ananias is male, but he is so likable. And, obviously, it’s the 19th century, but most of the women in the book are portrayed as smart and capable – especially once he gets to Newfoundland where all the traditional English rules of class and etiquette have relaxed or disappeared completely.

  4. buriedinprint says:

    There must be a subsection in the card catalogue, books in which the plot is launched by an unfortunate incident involving a shovel. The interplay between story and history here reminds me of George Eliott Clarke’s stories; there are so many great tales caught up in the history books that it’s no longer so many writers are inspired to bring them to life once more!

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