Sebastian Barry’s 2016 novel Days Without End, which won that year’s Costa Book of the Year award, is an often violent but also wonderfully poetic vision of a soldier’s life during the American Civil War. Narrated by displaced Irishman Thomas McNulty, it describes his growing love for fellow soldier John Cole and their adoption of a Native American girl, Winona, following the massacre of her family. A Thousand Moons picks up the story in the 1870s, a few years after the end of the war. It is narrated by Winona, now aged around seventeen (like several in the novel, she is not entirely sure of her birth date – a result of the chaos of the times). She is living with Thomas and John on the farm of another former soldier, Lige Magan, near Paris, Tennessee.
As in the previous novel, there are shocking acts of violence in A Thousand Moons, but this time they are directed against individuals rather than armies or tribes. The Union army may have won the war, but in the formerly Confederate state of Tennessee peace is not yet entirely secured.