Banished Children of Eve: A Novel of Civil War New York

Banished Children of Eve: A Novel of Civil War New York

by Peter D. Quinn

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Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This remarkably accomplished and ambitious first novel, by the chief speechwriter at Time Warner, is a historical saga set in a New York that is as vividly realized for its period (the Civil War) as Bonfire of the Vanities was for the 1980s. It also has much the same narrative drive and broad range of characters, and is as grandly cynical about most human activities. It follows a motley group of New Yorkers through a few days in the terrible summer of 1863, when anguish at the dragging war, the boiling rancor between the invading Irish immigrants and ``True Americans,'' the hatred of both for the blacks they feared would take away their jobs, the festering resentment of the poor against the new rich, and the all-embracing new draft laws combined to set the city ablaze. The Draft Riots form an unforgettable climax, but the book never lags for a moment on its grinding progress toward apocalypse. We see an Irish con man at his work; a young actor who is an early minstrel star (audiences laugh at minstrels and weep at Uncle Tom's Cabin even as their behavior to the black people among them is appalling); a beautiful young mulatto woman making her delicate, dangerous way through life; a child runaway who becomes a successful broker, only to face losing his fortune if he bets wrong on which side will be victorious in the war; and poor Stephen Foster, his songs on everyone's lips but reduced to plundering what little is left of his talent to pay for the oblivion of drink. It is a vast, compelling panoply of human misery and greed, with a keen sense of how New York looked, felt and smelled 130 years ago. Quinn's is the best kind of historical novel, providing both the compelling detail and the broad understanding that makes a past age both believable and comprehensible. 50,000 first printing; $40,000 ad/promo; BOMC selection. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Set in New York City during the Civil War years, this first novel echoes with Stephen Foster songs and the disparate voices of its teeming throngs of citizens while focusing on the experience of Irish Catholic immigrants. Quinn offers a strong, imaginative, and well-researched examination of the life of common people in that time through portraits of hucksters, minstrel actors, speculators, soldiers, and domestic servants whose lives touch. Their stories, set against a background of emigration, war, gangs, racism, stock exchange crashes, shanty towns, draft resistance, prostitution, strikes, and the manipulation of the uneducated masses to embrace a national interest, suggest that characterization of any past as ``the good old days'' is always a matter of who's doing the talking. Thoroughly enjoyable, educational, and highly recommended for fiction collections.-- Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C.
Gilbert Taylor
Certainly Quinn's setting, the New York draft riots of 1863, is surrounded with compelling subjects--racial tensions, animosity between immigrants and nationals, urbanization, and the Civil War. Any one of those could sustain a novel, but the difficulty with this valiant debut effort is that Quinn goes after everything and never really focuses his narrative. He relates the life of a dozen or so citizens, mixing in flashbacks, taking the reader to the point when violence flashes and Irish mobs start lynching blacks. Yet Quinn also distracts the reader by creating one character after another without convincingly linking them. The result is a series of vignettes, including those of a clever criminal (the best drawn one), a stockbroker, an Irish domestic, minstrels in blackface, musician Stephen Foster down on his luck, etc. Quinn seemingly is attempting a period "Bonfire of the Vanities", but his principal success is in his presentation of a wealth of contemporary detail (an information hoard useful in Quinn's day job, as a speechwriter for governors and Time Warner). Readers drawn more to history than character and story may warm to "Banished Children".

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.26(w) x 6.39(h) x 1.87(d)

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