Picks and Pans Review: Star of the Sea

updated 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Joseph O'Connor

Beginning in 1845 a fungal blight destroyed nearly all of the potato plants in Ireland, leaving most of the population starving. The result was one of the largest mass migrations in history, as the Irish began cramming onto ships bound for America. It is on one such ship that O'Connor (whose sister is singer Sinéad) stages this novel, an ambitious, superb, even uplifting tale of the Irish flight from horror. Characters such as Pius Mulvey, a crippled wretch forced to become an assassin, are drawn with layer upon layer of vivid background. Along the way O'Connor even brings in a thoroughly gripping murder mystery that is all the more affecting for the depth he gives his characters. They add up to a powerfully symbolic microcosm of the time. (Harcourt, $25)

BOTTOM LINE: Shining Star

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