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Burden of Desire

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  222 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
The disastrous 1917 explosion of a munitions ship in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, forms the backdrop to this “rich, abundantly humane love story” (Chicago Tribune)-”a powerful piece of work” (Washington Post Book World) that marks an “auspicious fiction debut for an already accomplished author and award-winning journalist” (Chicago Sun-Times).
Paperback, 480 pages
Published October 1st 1998 by Mariner Books (first published 1992)
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Jul 06, 2011 KOMET rated it it was amazing
This book I cannot recommend enough!!! My interest in "BURDEN OF DESIRE" was first kindled when I heard Mr. MacNeil talk about the 1917 Halifax tragedy on National Public Radio a few years ago. I was intrigued because I had never heard of this tragedy before. Then around Christmastime, I bought and read "BURDEN OF DESIRE". I became so wrapped up in the lives of the main characters (each of whom Mr. MacNeil creates with a full-bodied and multi-dimensional personality) that I felt as if I were a f ...more
Jun 19, 2009 Bill rated it it was amazing
MacNeil is the co-founder of the PBS MacNeil Leher Report. He is the author of several non-fiction books but Burden of Desire is his first novel. It is excellent. MacNeil was born in Montreal. His grandparents, mother and uncle lived in Halifax during WWI.

On December 6, 1917 the Mont Blanc, a freighter with a cargo of highly explosive picric acid, TNT, gun cotton and benzyl entered Halifax harbor. Its cargo was secret and certainly the Halifax port authorities did not know the ship was a floatin
Mar 13, 2011 Ben rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
This book is a complete surprise. Its title is at once misleading and accurate: one might easily expect Burden of Desire to be third-rate lightweight romantic escapism for a predominantly female readership. The only reason I read it was that I was urged to do so by a friend whose judgement I trust.

It is, in fact, an historical novel of depth, complexity and insight, which starts from a single event – the explosion of a munitions ship in Halifax harbour, Nova Scotia, in 1917 – and traces the afte
***Special TIP To Enrich The Reading of BURDEN OF DESIRE

Check out the CBC DIGITAL ARCHIVES online for related interviews and visuals connected to the actual historic Halifax ship explosion that occurs early in the fictional BURDEN OF DESIRE. Among the Halifax survivors who tell their stories,

I wish to alert readers to search for an extraordinary interview of the MUNITIONS SHIP CAPTAIN. He describes his own personal memories beginning the day before he received the okay to enter Halifax harbor
Feb 20, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it
Loved it. Robert McNeil is the Canadian half of the McNeil-Lehrer PBS Newshour (now, just the Newshour.) He came across as very reserved; very dignified, very proper. While reading this novel, I couldn't help thinking it was a window into him as well as a fascinating event and period in Canadian/world history. On Dec. 16, 1917, a freighter carrying TNT explodes in the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, destroying the entire north end of the city--where the poor live, of course. So many themes are e ...more
Barbara A.
Jul 28, 2012 Barbara A. rated it it was amazing
One of the most romantic historical novels of the late 20th C. Meticulously researched and emotionally compelling. Unforgettable read.
Mary Guildford
Sep 07, 2015 Mary Guildford rated it liked it
I read this book several years ago when it first came out. I'm now reading the sequel, Portrait of Julia. I'm from Halifax, NS, the setting of both books and I have read a lot about the Halifax Explosion. It's not successful as an account of the Explosion, just uses it as a backdrop. The centre the devastating explosion was the North end of the city which was a largely industrial, working class district. MacNeil sets his story among the stuffy well to do families of the South End. Their windows ...more
Dec 22, 2014 Becky rated it liked it
I was intrigued by this book because it's historical fiction about Nova Scotia - a place I haven't been but am fascinated by - and also because it's written by Robert MacNeil, who co-founded the MacNeil/Lehrer Report, and which later became the Lehrer News Hour on Public Television. I was curious what a journalist and former news anchor could do in a novel about his hometown. And overall I was impressed. It's a little like The Outlander - which I think of as part smut, part historical fiction - ...more
Craig Masten
Dec 20, 2013 Craig Masten rated it liked it
This first novel by the former NPR news broadcaster Robert MacNeil is an ambitious historical novel which sheds light on a largely forgotten tragedy during the First World War. The reader expects and gets much rich detail about a huge explosion in Halifax, Canada and its aftermath, as well as interesting information about life generally in that era. The novel's plot concerns the effects of the disaster on a large array if persons whose lives intersect. All this sounds appealing, except that the ...more
Jan 28, 2016 Judy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canada, fiction
Robert MacNeil of the MacNeil -Lehrer report on PBS wrote this book. The plot centers around the horrible Halifax Explosion which I had never heard of. Grabs your attention and you wonder when and if the main characters ever meet. Also recommend Wordstruck by MacNeil.
Feb 16, 2012 Colleen rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, history
Robert MacNeil, of the PBS program "The MacNeil-Lerer Report", wrote a romance novel. And I think this book is just what you might expect with that kind of mix--i.e., it's literary, historical, and the romance is pretty tame for something billed as a romance. The characters were interesting, sympathetic, and really well developed. The plot is moved along by both character development and the historical context--i.e., WW1 and the aftermath of the explosion of a ship in the Halifax harbor that dec ...more
Jan 01, 2013 Ellen66 rated it really liked it
Although this book underlying plot is a romance, it is much more than simply "boy meets girl, etc." This is a well-done fictional treatment of an historical event: the explosion of a munitions ship in Halifax harbour during WW I and how it affected the lives of the characters. Sub-plots include a little girl who has lost an eye and the medical knowledge of the time, shell-shocked soldiers and the budding field of psychology, Anglican church politics, class divisions, and the status of women duri ...more
May 04, 2016 Melanie rated it liked it
I wanted to read this book because of the historical context - the Halifax explosion and its aftermath. I am not normally a big fan of fiction, but I often make an exception for historical fiction. I wanted to like this book but I always have a hard time appreciating a work with a highly improbable story, and this work was even more improbable than most. The character development was great, for the most part. The sex scenes seemed self-indulgent at best, and some of them were gratuitous. I have ...more
Dec 20, 2013 Lynn rated it really liked it
The facts this novel is built upon are true. In 1917 a ship loaded with munitions for WWI exploded in the harbor in Halifax Nova Scotia. Hundreds of people were killed and half the town was destroyed. This is the story of several of the people who lived there. The writing is pretty good. The author is "the" Robert MacNeil of the MacNeil/Lehrer Report on PBS. I see him in a different light now. The book is a bit risque and I never really thought of him like
Jul 17, 2012 Barb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book but I certainly didn't read it in one sitting. But that doesn't mean I didn't like it....I did. I read it over a period of a couple of years while reading other books. When finished another book a would read Burden of Desire until I found a new book to read (which usually didn't take too long). I am almost finished. I will probably finish it tonight so I would put it on my read shelf with the finish date being July 17, 2012. :-)
Feb 06, 2008 Dana rated it it was amazing
This was a surprisingly good read. Having bought it simply because I needed something to read, I was pleased to find that it was well written, had very good character development, and was a good balance of history and fiction. The actual events, although incredibly significant, were not something that I remembered either from my history classes or even, from my visit to Halifax. It was a very enjoyable read!
Debbie Crocker
Mar 16, 2014 Debbie Crocker rated it it was amazing
Unusual book, very well-written. I couldn't put it down. Unique setting in Halifax, NS during the harbor explosion of 1917. Great characterization and plot!
Courtney  Griffith
Dec 31, 2010 Courtney Griffith rated it really liked it
Picked this up on a friend's recommendation- and, although it didn't seem like my kind of book, I really enjoyed it. I liked the historical aspect of the explosion in Halifax (who knew this ever happened????) and the insight into war and the way it affects all people was interesting.
Aug 24, 2013 Patty rated it it was amazing
This historical fiction novel set in Halifax and plotted around the 1917 Halifax Explosion and WWI is so terrific, it should be made into a Hollywood movie. Many vibrant characters and plausible story lines are intricately interwoven under the most intense of circumstances.
Aug 19, 2012 Kathe rated it it was amazing
This was a stunning book and one of my all-time favorites. This historical fiction is gripping. I remember being so impressed that McNEil could write SO well from a woman's perspective and in a woman's voice. This is a page turner that I will definitely read again!
Oct 21, 2011 Lyn rated it liked it
Read this for Book Club. Although it had an interesting backdrop of the famous explosion in Halifax in 1917 that destroyed the city (of course none of us had ever heard of it as we never study Canadian history), the story was just so-so. I'd skip it!
Mar 15, 2011 Brian rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting book that brings the Halifax explosion of 1917 to life. When reading it ones can imagine that you are right there in the midst of it. I highly recommend it.
Carole Allen
Mar 16, 2009 Carole Allen rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all-time favorite historical fiction books. Judging by the title it has romance but it is very well written and the premise is unique.
Jan 27, 2013 Erika rated it really liked it
Don' let the title or cover fool you into thinking this is some fluffy romance. This is a well written, thought provoking book.
Feb 04, 2008 Adrienne rated it it was amazing
Terrible title, great book. Taught me about the famous 1917 tragedy in Halifax that destoyed the North End.
Aug 07, 2009 Kim rated it liked it
The Halifax Disaster material is facinating. Pretty sexy romance for PBS newscaster!
Oct 28, 2010 Joni added it
*** characters a bit weak, disjointed writing but history of WWI and Halifax are good.
One of the best books about the Halifax Explosion and WWI that I have read.
Katrina Seemann
Jun 04, 2014 Katrina Seemann rated it did not like it
this was terrible, i hated every word (for a school project)
Sep 02, 2009 Blake rated it liked it
interesting to learn about halifax exposion
Story was okay.
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Robert Breckenridge Ware MacNeil, OC, is currently a novelist and formerly was a television news anchor and journalist who paired with Jim Lehrer to create The MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1975. MacNeil has also written several books, many about his career as a journalist, but, since his retirement from NewsHour, MacNeil has also dabbled in writing novels.

He attended Dalhousie University and later gr
More about Robert MacNeil...

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