Book Reviews - A selection of recently published books of Irish and Irish-American interest



Neil Sheehan worked as a reporter for The New York Times before winning a 1989 Pulitzer and a National Book Award for A Bright Shining Lie, his seminal work about the Vietnam War and Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann.
The book, recently re-released, was widely regarded as grand and unforgettable, and Sheehan does not disappoint in this September’s new epic, A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon. Despite – or because of – its daunting length, A Fiery Peace draws the reader in with its fascinating analysis of political events and scientific revelations, cultural miscommunications and essentially human anecdotes about the figures involved in the nuclear arms race during this all-important period in world history. On every page, Sheehan breathes well-researched life into characters that range from Air Force hero Bernard Schriever to the Russian spies that infiltrated American technological developments at every stage, and the obsessive, misunderstood and, in moments, frankly sympathetic Stalin himself.
Sheehan is a master of his craft as both an accomplished reporter and a gifted storyteller, and he combines these talents in yet another defining account of American history.
                   – Kara Rota
($32.00 / 560 pages / Random House)

At age twenty-five, the prolific, well-connected and envy-garnering Nick McDonell has already published three novels, the first of which (Twelve) is currently being made into a major motion picture starring Chace Crawford and Kiefer Sutherland. Like Twelve, McDonell’s latest novel, An Expensive Education, draws on his own experiences: here, rather than exploring the seamy secret lives of the Upper East Side’s teenage trust fund beneficiaries, McDonell focuses on the convergence of Harvard’s (McDonell’s own alma mater) social and academic hierarchies with the political atmosphere in Somalia (McDonell reported for Harper’s and Time magazines from Darfur and Iraq). The story circles around the lives of Mike Teak, a privileged Harvard graduate working for a U.S. intelligence agency; Susan Lowell, a Harvard professor and recent Pulitzer Prize winner for her work on the Somalian conflict; and David Ayan, Lowell’s advisee who traveled to Harvard from the Somali village at the political heart of the novel. McDonell effortlessly switches between the perspectives of these and his other characters, emphasizing the personal involvements and, deeper, the naïveté that they all share.                 – Kara Rota
($24.00 / 256 pages / Atlantic Monthly Press)
James Ryan’s fourth novel, South of the Border, is a mesmerizing story of first love during the Second World War and its far-reaching consequences. Matt Duggan, a young teacher assigned to a school away from his home in Balbriggan, and Madelene Coll, a local girl whose family harbors sympathies to the German side, are drawn together in the summer of 1942 in the small town of Rathisland, removed from reports of most political and military news. When a Messerschmitt crashes nearby, Matt and Madelene, along with the rest of the town’s inhabitants, are deeply changed by the unfolding events. A highly satisfying flash-forward at the end of the novel reveals the true context of Matt’s time in Rathisland, and reminds the reader that although things usually didn’t happen just the way we recall them, the stories that stay with us remain for a lifetime.                          – Kara Rota
($29.95 / 233 pages / Lilliput Press/Dufour Editions)

Andrew Greeley’s Home for Christmas follows the lives of two young students in Poplar Grove, Chicago, through the eyes of their friend and teacher, Father Jimmy. As fate would have it, these students – “Petey Pat” Kane and Mariana Pellegrino – are
destined to be together. The problem is that everyone knows it except them. Greeley’s modern-day love story is ultimately not just about Peter and Mariana’s reunion but also about facing one’s  fears: the lovers struggle with mutual loss and are burdened with separation as Peter leaves to fight in the Iraq War. This is one situation that is not romanticized: indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is Peter’s subtle dissent to a war in which he is the unflappable hero. At the crux of the story is Peter’s near-death experience (or what Greeley calls a transcendent experience “with a capital T”) while fighting to protect his soldiers in combat. In less than ten minutes, Peter meets someone who is finally able to wade through his witticisms to bring out the fears of love, forgiveness, and rejection that lay beneath. Here, Greeley does not disappoint, with a God who is naturally not without a hearty sense of humor.
While Home for Christmas is a story about a love secured, it is Peter’s wartime reflections, seemingly ripped straight from today’s headlines, which are left open to the reader’s interpretation.                                             – Aliah O’Neill
($14.99 / 192 pages / Forge)