Review of Books
Neil Sheehan worked as a reporter for The New York Times before winning a 1989 Pulitzer and a National Book Award for A Bright Shining Lie, his seminal work about the Vietnam War and Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann.
The book, recently re-released, was widely regarded as grand and unforgettable, and Sheehan does not disappoint in this September’s new epic, A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon. Despite – or because of – its daunting length, A Fiery Peace draws the reader in with its fascinating analysis of political events and scientific revelations, cultural miscommunications and essentially human anecdotes about the figures involved in the nuclear arms race during this all-important period in world history. On every page, Sheehan breathes well-researched life into characters that range from Air Force hero Bernard Schriever to the Russian spies that infiltrated American technological developments at every stage, and the obsessive, misunderstood and, in moments, frankly sympathetic Stalin himself.
Sheehan is a master of his craft as both an accomplished reporter and a gifted storyteller, and he combines these talents in yet another defining account of American history.
– Kara Rota
($32.00 / 560 pages / Random House)
At age twenty-five, the prolific, well-connected and envy-garnering Nick McDonell has already published three novels, the first of which (Twelve) is currently being made into a major motion picture starring Chace Crawford and Kiefer Sutherland. Like Twelve, McDonell’s latest novel, An Expensive Education, draws on his own experiences: here, rather than exploring the seamy secret lives of the Upper East Side’s teenage trust fund beneficiaries, McDonell focuses on the convergence of Harvard’s (McDonell’s own alma mater) social and academic hierarchies with the political atmosphere in Somalia (McDonell reported for Harper’s and Time magazines from Darfur and Iraq). The story circles around the lives of Mike Teak, a privileged Harvard graduate working for a U.S. intelligence agency; Susan Lowell, a Harvard professor and recent Pulitzer Prize winner for her work on the Somalian conflict; and David Ayan, Lowell’s advisee who traveled to Harvard from the Somali village at the political heart of the novel. McDonell effortlessly switches between the perspectives of these and his other characters, emphasizing the personal involvements and, deeper, the naïveté that they all share.
– Kara Rota
($24.00 / 256 pages / Atlantic Monthly Press)
James Ryan’s fourth novel, South of the Border, is a mesmerizing story of first love during the Second World War and its far-reaching consequences. Matt Duggan, a young teacher assigned to a school away from his home in Balbriggan, and Madelene Coll, a local girl whose family harbors sympathies to the German side, are drawn together in the summer of 1942 in the small town of Rathisland, removed from reports of most political and military news. When a Messerschmitt crashes nearby, Matt and Madelene, along with the rest of the town’s inhabitants, are deeply changed by the unfolding events. A highly satisfying flash-forward at the end of the novel reveals the true context of Matt’s time in Rathisland, and reminds the reader that although things usually didn’t happen just the way we recall them, the stories that stay with us remain for a lifetime.
– Kara Rota
($29.95 / 233 pages / Lilliput Press/Dufour Editions)
Andrew Greeley’s Home for Christmas follows the lives of two young students in Poplar Grove, Chicago, through the eyes of their friend and teacher, Father Jimmy. As fate would have it, these students – “Petey Pat” Kane and Mariana Pellegrino – are destined to be together. The problem is that everyone knows it except them. Greeley’s modern-day love story is ultimately not just about Peter and Mariana’s reunion but also about facing one’s fears: the lovers struggle with mutual loss and are burdened with separation as Peter leaves to fight in the Iraq War. This is one situation that is not romanticized: indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is Peter’s subtle dissent to a war in which he is the unflappable hero. At the crux of the story is Peter’s near-death experience (or what Greeley calls a transcendent experience “with a capital T”) while fighting to protect his soldiers in combat. In less than ten minutes, Peter meets someone who is finally able to wade through his witticisms to bring out the fears of love, forgiveness, and rejection that lay beneath. Here, Greeley does not disappoint, with a God who is naturally not without a hearty sense of humor.
While Home for Christmas is a story about a love secured, it is Peter’s wartime reflections, seemingly ripped straight from today’s headlines, which are left open to the reader’s interpretation.
– Aliah O’Neill
($14.99 / 192 pages / Forge)
Folklore and Mythology
Bill Price’s exploration of the mythology and folklore of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany in his new book Celtic Myths is well-rounded, concise, accessible and packed with fascinating details. Beginning with an overview of the function of myths in culture and their relationship to the history of Celtic peoples, including an excellent exposition on the import of oral tradition, Price goes on to outline and analyze the most prominent stories from Ireland, Wales, and the rest of the Celtic world.
In the section on the Irish cycles, he examines the ways that the stories changed in their transition from oral histories in pre-Christian Ireland to transcriptions by monastic scribes with edits that reflect a Christian era. Price’s book is an absorbing introduction to the Ulster Cycle, including a separate chapter on the Táin, the Fenian Cycle, the Mythological Cycle, and the Cycles of the Kings, among other myths and legends. The colorful characters of Cúchulainn, Queen Medb of Connacht, Deirdre and Fionn mac Cumhaill come alive in Price’s pages.
– Kara Rota
($19.95 / 160 pages / Pocket Essentials, an imprint of Oldcastle Books)
Earth Voices Whispering: An Anthology of Irish War Poetry 1914-1945, edited by Gerald Dawe, is a revolutionary collection of over three hundred poems spanning Ireland’s deep and broad history of conflict in the first half of the 20th century, from the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence to the Spanish Civil War and World Wars I and II. Featuring the voices of Ireland’s writers including Seamus Heaney, W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Katharine Tynan, Eva Gore-Booth, and Thomas Kinsella, Dawe’s anthology brings together the words of writers on all sides of clashes, speaking as soldiers, dissenters, civilians and mourners left behind.
– Kara Rota
($22.95 / 432 pages / Blackstaff Press Ltd./Dufour Editions)
Edited by Joan McBreen, The Watchful Heart: A New Generation of Irish Poets is an anthology of work by twenty-four Irish poets born in the last fifty years. All of them have published at least two books of poetry, but readers will be introduced in this collection to the voices of familiar writers and newly emerging talents alike through biographical details, poems and essays, none of which have ever before been published in anthologies and most of which are published here for the first time. There are some true gems in this eclectic and varied collection, including Margaret Galvin’s sensory narratives, Anne Fitzgerald’s snapshots bursting with life in Ireland, and Paul Perry’s surreal and personal pieces.
– Kara Rota
($29.95 / 231 pages / Salmon Publishing Ltd./Dufour Editions)
Mercier Press brings readers yet another true story of murder in Ireland in Dermot Walsh’s work of nonfiction, Beneath Cannock’s Clock: The Last Man Hanged in Ireland. The historical narrative explores a criminal whose sentence will go down in infamy as the last penalty of death carried out by the state in Ireland. Beneath Cannock’s Clock follows in detail the events of November 18, 1953, when 25-year-old Michael Manning took the life of Sister Catherine Cooper, and the subsequent investigation and trial that led to Manning’s execution. Walsh uses Garda files, only recently made public, as well as interviews to construct this accurate and extremely detailed account of the events. Walsh’s style is very straightforward and the book provides a step-by-step account with investigatory precision and an unbiased voice. Interviews are included from the investigatory team as well as excerpts from Manning’s confession to gardaí and newspaper clippings. Walsh’s approach in this work as a researcher and historian is appropriate given the weight of Manning’s execution in the context of laws in the Republic. The death penalty was partially abolished in 1964, ten years after Manning’s execution. It was expunged from the Constitution of Ireland by a referendum in 2001.
– Tara Dougherty
($19.95 / 160 pages / Mercier Press/Dufour Editions)
In Colin Broderick’s Orangutan, we first encounter the author as a fresh-faced Irish immigrant who arrives in New York for a clean start, away from the horrors of life in County Tyrone and the discrimination and drunkenness in London. But as he describes the beast inside him that emerges when he drinks, the reader is introduced to the orangutan: the inhuman part of Broderick that emerges when he abuses drugs and alcohol, and engages in shockingly dangerous behavior. His bouts of sobriety range from hours to years, all while the beast inside of him is poised to break through.
In the twenty years that the memoir spans, Broderick marries and divorces two women, works in seemingly all areas of construction, and travels throughout the United States.
Broderick’s account of his life is astoundingly unapologetic, and this is fitting for the memoir. It is not a story of redemption, of a man who realizes his mistakes and then sets out to fix them. Broderick does not want pity. He simply wants to tell a story, something he strives to do throughout his time in New York and finally accomplishes in the darkest recesses of his final detoxification. It is honest, moving and at times heart-wrenching. Orangutan is, at its core, a story of a man who spent two decades fighting the beast inside of him and surviving life as he did so.
– Kerman Patel
($14.00 / 256 pages / Three Rivers Press)