Peter Quinn’s Novel Redux
“Quinn has a way of making ordinary things, the ordinary or wise or inadequate thoughts of many persons in many circumstances not only convincing but merely actual: an ability that can remind a reader of James Joyce in stories like The Dead and in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
– John Crowley (from a new addendum to his original review in the New York Times 27 years ago).
Back in March, the New York Times ran an Opinion piece entitled “The Real Story of the ‘Draft Riots’.”
Author Elizabeth Mitchell noted: “Many people today, probably know (the riots) as a violent citizens’ revolt against President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 conscription of soldiers. In Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, inspired by the nonfiction book by Herbert Asbury, what happened over those days comes across as a somewhat entertaining if gory battle between rival white gangs.”
Mitchell is correct in her suggestion that even though this awful spasm of violence unfolded over 150 years ago, there is plenty we can still earn from them in 2021.
The trouble is, reading Mitchell’s piece, you would never know the Draft Riots coincided with decades of heavy immigration from Ireland.
That’s why Peter Quinn’s brilliant 1995 novel The Banished Children of Eve remains the most vivid examination of the Draft Riots – and arguably the best novel about the New York Irish – ever written.
It takes a broad, long look – both epic and intimate – at mid-19th Century New York, the rich and poor, black and white, immigrant and native-born.
It is a bustling exploration of the beauty and chaos of a multicultural society, the Melting Pot on the printed page, simmering, and eventually boiling over.
The Banished Children of Eve has just been re-released by Fordham University Press, along with an insightful collection of Quinn’s non-fiction, Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America, and his trilogy of detective novels featuring the Irish American sleuth Fintan Dunne.
Quinn spoke to Irish America this week about all of this – and more. Enjoy!
Tom Deignan is a teacher, author, and columnist for the Irish Voice and Irish America (tdeignan.blogspot.com). He is working on a book about America during the Ellis Island years.
His writing has appeared in newspapers such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Star-Ledger, and National Catholic Reporter, as well as magazines such as America, Commonweal, Brooklyn Rail, and Irish America.
He is the author of Coming to America: Irish Americans, and contributed to books such as Nine Irish Lives: The Fighters, Thinkers, and Artists Who Helped Build America, and The Irish American Chronicle.