Author: Pete Hamill
Published: Back Bay Books, 2002
Where I Got It: Used book store
Rating: 4 stars
In 1740, young Cormac O'Connor arrives in New York City from Ireland to avenge the deaths of his parents. On the voyage to New York and after their arrival, Cormac shows kindness to an African slave, Kongo, who later repays his kindness by granting Cormac eternal life. The conditions are that Cormac can never leave the island of Manhattan and must fully carry out his mission of revenge. It isn't until the early 2000s that this opportunity comes about, and in the meantime, we see Manhattan grow from a small village mostly populated by the wolves in its forests to the thriving mega-city we all know it as today. From the American Revolution, the slave revolts, the Civil War, the Prohibition, to 9/11, we see all of these events through the eyes of one person.
Interestingly enough, in an interview at the end, the author says he actually completed the book on September 10, 2001. He went back and revised it, later saying, "I couldn't have a New York novel that had the 1835 fire and the cholera and smallpox epidemics, and not include September 11." I felt that the 9/11 section was the most haunting (though terribly foreshadowed), but that's probably only because it's the only section of the book I'd ever personally experienced.
Overall, this was a pretty interesting read. I should mention that there are about 150 pages of back story before he even arrives in New York, but most of it was relevant as to why Cormac is doing most of the things he does. I still think that as concise and long as this book was, we still missed out on some periods of time that would have been fun to read about; the entire 20th century was virtually ignored. How fun would it have been to read chapters about the flappers?
Immediately upon finishing this book, I spent at least 15 minutes figuring out what I would have done if I'd been in Cormac's place. I think I'd like the fact of observing history in the making and watching all the changes going on around me. It'd be like being a vampire..without actually being a vampire. On the flip side, it would be torture to have all the people I ever cared about eventually die and leave me alone. As in Cormac's case, never being able to travel beyond one place would be pure torture! What would you do?