Review of Pete Hamill’s Forever

October 23, 2018 |  Tagged , , | Comments Off on Review of Pete Hamill’s Forever

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Forever by Pete Hamill is a historical fiction novel written by journalist Pete Hamill. This story is about a man named Cormac O’Connor who is granted immortality as long as he remains within the island of Manhattan. This novel starts off in Northern Ireland and it follows Cormac as he follows a man named Earl Warren, who is the aristocrat responsible for the death of his parents. Cormac follows the Earl of Warren to New York City in midst of the colonial period and in his journey to New York, he meets and saves a slave named Kongo from getting beat to death. In doing so, Cormac is fatally injured and was dead for nine days before being brought back to life by Kongo with the condition that he not step foot outside the island of Manhattan or he would die. The timeline of this book ranges from 18th century Ireland to Colonial New York to New York on 9/11. The basic premise of this novel is that because of Cormac’s immortality, he can live, see the gradual transformation of New York City over the course of a few centuries, and play a variety of roles throughout history that shapes the history of New York City. When it comes to the novel’s role in the larger study of history, there are strengths and weaknesses to it that affect how historians and the public receive this book.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Although this book is a historical fiction novel, this book possesses a lot of strengths. It is a good reference point for people who are not well versed in the history of New York. Since the plot is set through the course of a few centuries, the reader can see the transformation of New York City from the colonial period to 9/11. If the reader is interested in any part of New York history, then the reader can conduct additional research on the topic on their own. This book can be a good point of reference to students if the educator deems that the content of the book is appropriate to their students. Educators must keep in mind that this book is longer than what most students would expect a novel to be (500+ pages), so if it is used in the secondary level, it is recommended that educators differentiate the novel to fit the needs of their students.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Another reason why this novel is a good starting point for the public is because through Hamill’s use of literary elements, he can draw the reader’s interest toward history that would not have otherwise have happened had this information been in a monograph. The plot of the story itself draws the attention of the public because the public is presented with a plot, themes, characters, setting, amongst other literary elements that they are familiar with. When you mix these literary elements with historical events, the reader gets a glimpse and taste of history without looking into its intricacies or having to dive deeper into the larger scholarly debates that surround each of the historical events and eras that are mentioned in the book. This is good for a reader who may not be interested in the minor details or the greater scholarly events, but is just interested in the historical period. Having this in mind, it also exposes one of the book’s greatest weaknesses- it is a work of fiction.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 When historians look at history, they rely on a variety of primary and secondary sources to gain a greater understanding of the period, event, and/or people of their interest. A novel such as Forever is of little value to a historian because there are no footnotes that indicate which information the author got from his research and which information is made up. By merging fact with fiction, it creates problems for the historian because it does not provide a reference point to which historians can refer to for further research. If a historian tries to incorporate aspects of this book as if it were fact, the historian would lose his or her credibility because the historian is unable to verify the credibility of the sources Hamill used in his book since there are no footnotes or references to where Hamill got his information from. All sources have a bias and if one is not able to determine the bias of the creator of the sources used, it misleads the audience because it gives the reader the false impression that all the information in the novel is factual.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Another weakness of the book is that Pete Hamill himself is not a historian, but rather a journalist. Although journalists have similar training to historians when it comes to conducting research, historians also use other skills that perhaps journalists do not regularly use in their field. When historians research certain events, they do not only focus on the primary and secondary sources that are about the period in question, but they also have to widen their search to sources that predated the event or period in question to gain a wider perspective on the topic of interest. To understand certain social and political phenomena of certain periods of history, it is crucial that one knows what led to the phenomena and what resulted from the phenomena. This is evident in the book because although it seems like Hamill is going into depth on certain eras of NYC history, it is quite superficial because it goes into detail about what the main character is doing and the role that he is playing in this era, but only talks briefly of the historical period.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This is particularly evident in the beginning of the book where Cormac is introduced to the reader as a boy named Robert Carson. Although Hamill explains that there is religious tension in Ireland, he does not go into detail about what caused the religious tensions. Hamill mentioned Oliver Cromwell in passing, which alludes to the English Civil War and Cromwell’s forced conversion of the Irish to Protestantism, but only someone who knows who Cromwell is would understand that Hamill is referencing the English Civil War and Cromwell’s invasion or conquest of Ireland. People who have little to no knowledge of these events would not be able to understand why people like Cormac’s family had dual identities during his childhood years. This information is also particularly important because it helps explain the blood feud that Cormac has with the Earl of Warren and his descendants. Although this blood feud is an important part of the plot of the novel, both Cormac and the Earl of Warren are symbolic characters because Cormac represents the Irish who were victimized by the English whereas the Earl of Warren represents the aristocracy who benefitted from the invasion/conquest of Ireland and the oppression of the Irish during this period. This created tensions and resentment between the English and Irish which is still relevant today. This is important for Hamill to at least explain to the audience who may not know anything about this period in history.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Although the novel gives the reader a glimpse of how the average person might have lived his life during these time periods, it is not exactly representative of the average New Yorker because the main character himself is extraordinary after being granted immortality. It does however, attempt to show the racial, social, and religious tensions that existed in both Ireland and in New York, which is described in detail through the fictional lives of the characters created by Hamill. The main character’s interactions with people of other racial and ethnic groups shows Hamill is trying to be as representative as possible by incorporating into the story as many perspectives as possible so the reader can get a glimpse of what life was like for different people. Overall, this novel is written well, but one must be aware of its strengths and shortcomings for one to fully enjoy this book.


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