The Irish weren't always cops in New York City, we were once the people they pursued too.
In Eamon Loingsigh's new historical novel 'Divide The Dawn,' he explores the life of one of New York's immigrant Irish street gangs during the turn of the century, but he does so much more than that.
The book begins in Ireland in 1908, introducing us to young Liam Garrity, who will later join the famous White Hand gang in New York, the crew run by the Irish that's beginning to lose its sway around the city.
Liam is the Platonic ideal of what the Irish would call a sound lad, a young man who's loyal and determined to retain his integrity in a world where it simply isn't valued. But Loingsigh sees his characters though the wider arc of history, mining threads and connections that subtly comment on their individual travails.
Story and the power of story and the dangers of story are part of his theme (special consideration is given to the shanachie) and his characters are often trapped in invisible cycles that they can not always quite perceive but that Loingsigh never misses. That dual awareness gives the book its engine and propels the narrative forward.
This is epic portraiture of a kind not often undertaken these days and at 618 pages it's world making on an impressive scale. Who we are and who we're descended from and the rough work they were often forced to do to save themselves is part of a story that needs to always be renewed if we are to understand who we have become now.
Loinsigh's book examines one way the Irish rose in America and the inter-immigrant power struggles that helped shape our experience. When you hail from a poor, dispossessed and often despised group you rarely have a biographer along for the ride to record where you went and what happened.
So without writers and researchers like Loingsigh these chapters of our history, no matter how raw, would be omitted from the official record to our great detriment.
His dialogue is particularly vivid, occasionally making me wish that this book was a play or a film too. The urgency of the language matches the stresses on the lives he describes in a way that takes a deep dive into the period and its mean streets. Fate may have forced their hands, but we deny them now at great cost to our own story.
Shanachi51 Press, $17.99.