Fiction Quinn, Peter Banished Children of Eve

ISBN 13: 9780140230031

Banished Children of Eve

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9780140230031: Banished Children of Eve

Banished Children of Eve, a novel of America struggling to become a melting pot, marks the debut of a gifted storyteller. It is New York City, the time of the Civil War. The war has just entered its third bloody year, and the North is about to impose its first military draft, a decision that will spark the most devastating and destructive riot in American history. Quinn gives us these events through the eyes of people drawn from every part of the city's life - minstrels, street gangs, servants, soldiers, and clergymen, Yankee, African American, and Irish. It is the New York of Jimmy Dunne, a streetwise Irish-American hustler in search of the big score. Of Eliza, an African-American actress seeking her place in a city where her family has lived since colonial times. Of Jack Mulcahey, Eliza's lover, who escaped death in the Irish famine of the 1840s, and is struggling to hold on to his position as one of New York's leading minstrels. At the heart of Banished Children of Eve is the American search for the Promised Land. Along with Jimmy, Eliza, and Jack, it is a search shared by Charles Bedford, a scheming and ambitious stockbroker, and by Margaret O'Driscoll, an immigrant servant girl in Bedford's home. There are two other shadowy presences. One is a drunken and broken drifter, Stephen Foster, who has given away all his songs, but who can still remember the music, which becomes the music of the novel. The other is the Civil War itself. Through the stories of these disparate lives, all brought together in the cataclysm of the Draft Riots, Quinn spins out the fates of his rich and vital characters as he brings magically to life a pivotal period in this country's history.

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From the Author:

An author's note
My family first arrived in New York City in the late 1840s. They were part of the wave of Famine Irish who poured into America as a result of that catastrophe. As a kid in the Bronx in the 1950s, I knew next to nothing about these events. I had the names of a few ancestors and some scattered dates and facts, but the immense saga these people were part of--the massive transfer of Europe's most rural and primitive peasantry to the rapidly industrializing cities of America--was unknown to me. Although I studied for a Ph.d. in history at Fordham, I was never able to find out many specifics about these people, about their humanity and the dense particularity that marks every life. So I turned dishonest (hey, I grew up in the Bronx, whaddaya expect?) and set out to write a novel. I wanted to try to recreate the world my ancestors left and the one they found. I wanted to convey the feel and smell of New York at the time, a city that in so many ways encapsulated--for better and for worse--the America to come. The New York City Draft Riots--the bloodiest urban insurrection in American history--provided the dramatic back drop. I felt that here, amid this crisis, I could explore the clash and confluence of races, classes and ethnic groups that has driven so much of the history of New York and America. Some critics have said that my book lacks a central character. But New York is the central character. Its the factor that alters the lives of all the other characters. Everyone who comes to New York is changed by the city, some elevated, others destroyed, but no one left the same. Along with being an exploration of New York--my native city, a maddening place that I love very deeply--my book is a personal reckoning with the the meaning of the Famine emigration in the history of my own family. It is an act of remembrance of the passage into America, the first leg of an epic journey, a cruel and amazing arrival amid other banished children, from other races and other places. It is an attempt to reach the lives of those swallowed and forgotten by history, those whose entire biography consisted of a birth certificate, if they were lucky. Last spring marked the 150th anniversary of my great grandfather's arrival in New York City. That man--Michael Manning--was part of an exodus that changed both Ireland and America, a wound that would not clot, that bled Ireland--internally and externally--for generations, and that helped shape the experience and expectations of Irish immigrant communities, wherever they may be. One hundred and fifty years ago is an eternity removed from us. And it is the day before yesterday. The world Michael Manning knew and inhabited is gone and beyond our knowing. And it is with us, in us and all around us. Do I contradict myself? That great New Yorker Walt Whitman understood such contradictions ("Very well then...I contradict myself."). I claim such contradictions as a birth right. They are there in the hyhen between Irish-American. Is the hyphen a bond, a link? Or is it a minus sign? Does one identity detract from the other? Is it possible to have both? Is it necessary? Is it wise? Mostly, I believe, it is inescapable. Already several Irish-American critics have expressed some unhappiness with the characters I describe--whores, thieves, rioters. I plead guilty. I apologize for offending anyone's feelings or ethnic sensitivities. But I will spend the rest of my life wondering and writing about such people. My purpose is not to excuse, justify, glorify. It is to see these people for who and what they were, to try to understand. Above all, it is to say in the words of Walt Whitman, in the words with which I chose to end Banished Children of Eve, "Each belongs here or anywhere as much as the welloff...Just as much as you, Each has his or her place in the procession."

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