Book Review: The Story of Chicago May by Nuala O’Faolain

This book is a biography of May Duignan who was born in Longford, Ireland. She stole her family’s savings and ran off to America to start a new life. Her new life was a life of crime and she soon earned the name Chicago May.  Her adventures took her to Chicago, New York, Paris and London.  Her crimes and jobs varied from theft, prostitution, showgirl and outlaw.

Within the first few pages of reading this book, Nuala O’Faolains devotion to writing a correct account of Chicago Mays life was clear.  Because the time covered is from 1890-1929, some details are missing but O’Faolain is quick to fill in what she thinks happened.   May kept using different names which must have made research hard. O’Faolain has done an amount of research into re-creating Mays journey from Longford to America and her new life and events that happened including visiting the places herself which makes the book so good.  I liked that she went to the places May lived so she could paint a true picture of the time.

There is so much detail in the book it is easy to picture it all.  It is a great social history of Ireland, America and London at the time.  It covers an escape from rural Ireland to America and then various moves to cities in America.  May had bad taste in men which led to a lot of her troubles.  She did end up in prison in the UK.  This was a very interesting chapter as it was during her time in prison that she met Constance Markieviez, one of the famous women in the 1916 rising in Dublin.

While some of the things May did are not admirable she is still a likeable character.  She lived a life full of experiences, some good and a lot bad but this was all part of her character.

It is a great book. It is so detailed.  It’s not one that can be quickly scanned over as there is information in every line.  I really enjoyed it as there was a broad range of life experience, history and tales of crime.  I can highly recommend it as something different to read. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I picked this book up as I wanted to read something different from what I usually read and this proved to be an exceptional choice.  It also makes me want to read other books on events raised in this book.

The Story of Chicago May – Nuala O’Faolain
Penguin, 2006
ISBN: 0141006587


2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Story of Chicago May by Nuala O’Faolain

  1. Pingback: Fiction Versus Non-Fiction | darkwoodbooks

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