On July 11, 1863, in the heat of the Civil War, riots erupted through the poorest sections of New York City in response to a military draft from which the wealthy could buy their children an exemption. The poor, naturally, had no recourse but to wait for their names to be drawn in a random lottery. A mob numbering fifty thousand tore through East Side neighborhoods, looted stores, and lynched black citizens, apparently out of resentment toward fighting against slavery. When the Draft Riots subsided, the casualties were estimated between two dozen and a hundred. The incident has become one of the most notorious and frequently unmentioned in U.S. history.
Kevin Baker's Paradise Alley dramatizes the three-day chaos of the Draft Riots with a deft and personal touch. Although the Draft Riots have been explored in-depth in such works as Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York, what Baker's novel provides that nonfiction works cannot is a sense of inhabiting the lives of those who participated in, and/or struggled merely to survive amidst the riots. How did it feel to be swept up in those three days of chaos? Through the changing perspectives of his three protagonists all "lower-class" women whose futures will be determined by the outcome of the riots the reader can imagine the sights and smells, terror and exhilaration of anarchy. No wonder Paradise Alley won both the American Book Association Award for Fiction and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Novel; Baker expertly takes the two-dimensional image of historical fact and fills it with vivid and unforgettable details no reader is likely to forget. Rico, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
At the height of the Civil War, word spreads through the poorest quarters of New York City that a military draft is about to be implemented a draft from which any rich man's son can buy an exemption. The outrage this inspires escalates into the worst urban conflagration in American history.
Down in the waterfront slum of Paradise Alley, three women Deirdre Dolan O'Kane, Ruth Dove, and Maddy Boyle struggle with their private fears as they wait for the storm to descend upon them. Deirdre, devastated by the news that her husband, Tom, has been wounded at Gettysburg, must turn for comfort and aid to two women she has always judged as morally depraved Ruth, married to an ex-slave, and Maddy, a hard-living prostitute.
Kevin Baker's acclaimed masterpiece is an unforgettable portrait of three women who come together to protect their homes and families from the brutality of a city and a nation gone mad.
"[D]eftly plotted, fabulously detailed, and never less than absorbing. An authoritative blend of documentary realism and driving narrative that's just about irresistible." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[A] terrifying, human story bursting with all the calamity, brutality and power of the riots themselves....[Baker] give[s] readers an invigorating, heartbreaking tale of the immigrant experience." Publishers Weekly
"[A] richly detailed, impeccably researched drama....[H]istorical fiction fans will relish the book's grand sweep as they savor its well-crafted parts." Brad Hooper, Booklist
"Extraordinary....Baker achieves a hallucinatory realism packed with sensory detail." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Baker's period detail can be both gripping and gruesome....Fortunately, he lavishes the same painstaking attention on his characters, flawed players in a drama whose vast scope they only dimly imagine. (Grade: A-)" Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
Now in paperback comes the story of the intersection of the Irish and African-American experiences in the crucible of 19th-century New York a story of race and hatred, love and war, of risk and dauntless courage.
Three Irish immigrant women become trapped in New York City during the draft riots of the Civil War and must struggle to protect their families.
About the Author
The critically acclaimed novel Dreamland established Kevin Baker as "one of America's best new writers" (Boston Herald). Now, with Paradise Alley, he emerges as one of the most important voices of his generation. Currently at work on the third volume of his City of Fire trilogy, Mr. Baker is also the author of the novel Sometimes You See It Coming and served as chief historical researcher for the nonfiction bestseller The American Century. He is married and lives in New York City.
Review A Day
"Kevin Baker is quickly altering the landscape of American historical fiction. His first novel, Dreamland
, burst into flames three years ago a hypnotic portrayal of Coney Island designed to parallel the chaotic city of New York in 1911. His latest, Paradise Alley
, stays on Manhattan, but it moves back to the Civil War, rescuing from national amnesia the worst riot in US history.
Baker's descriptions of New York City could be more pungent only with scratch 'n' sniff inserts. While Dreamland rose into the lurid surrealism of the carnival, for this more grounded history, Baker has only to follow the ghastly imagination of the rioters, whose deeds he unearthed in contemporary newspaper accounts. Indeed, this mammoth book threatens Cormac McCarthy's position as the country's most violent novelist." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)