Belying its name "The Great Shame", Keneally's book celebrates the stories of the Irish worldwide. He paints with a fine brush, telling the stories of individuals of many varieties, but in the end it all goes on a grand broad canvas. He paints all the sides of the great historical arguments with the same brush, some in gold and others the darkest colors. I love his prose; it is rich and each story is fascinating in itself.
It is both interesting and exciting reading, holding one's interest through its 639 pages of text. He manages through the entire thing to not succumb to the popular and easy fad of finding someone to blame and then flogging bellwether complaints to death. (When was the last time you saw that in a book about the history of an ethnic minority?) Instead it shows the heroes, the villains and the huge mass of those in the middle in a human and sympathetic way.
About forty million Americans descend from the Irish. (By comparison the population of Republic of Ireland is about five million.) Some of us (like the author - hence the 19th century emphasis of the book) are grandchildren of the 19th century Diaspora, others of the earlier waves of immigration which followed the bloodbath of British ethnic cleansing starting in the 1600s and lasting until the age of starved hordes of the mid 1800's. If you listen you'll generally hear one sentiment from them, summarized by an elderly friend of mine decades ago: "I'm happy to be here". The author personalizes this, putting names to ancestors and their collaterals who prevailed by that same can-do attitude.
I was enthralled by his discussion of the Fenians, a subject which has been mostly neglected in the US since the vast majority of our ancestors had left Ireland by the 1860s, and most of us prefer to hear stories about our own families. And I was glad to see the battles of the American Civil War and the taming of the 'wild west' put into an Irish perspective. The Irish were not just walk-on bit players and idiosyncratic side kicks for the English cowboys!
But there is a lesson for us all in this book. Seriously, when was the last time you met anyone "ethnic" (whose ancestors were bought and sold like cattle and had to learn a foreign language, someone who is maybe the first of their family to go to college, the first to work for salary instead of slave wages) who is happy and proud and really doesn't care that the neighbors have more money, privilege or prestige? Far from being jealous and plaintive, the Irish have thrown themselves fully into the American dream of freedom, and yes, we've benefited more from from our work than those we worked for.
- Paperback: 784 pages
- Publisher: ADULT LOCAL VINTAGE - MASS MKT; 1 edition (3 September 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0091840619
- ISBN-13: 978-0091840617
- Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 5.3 x 23.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 748 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 89,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)