Sharpen your suspension of disbelief skills before beginning this book. It blends historical fact with magic realism.
Cormac O’Connor is a young Irish lad living outside Belfast in the 1730s. Both his parents are killed in separate incidents by the Earl of Warren. As dictated by his family’s “Old Religion,” Cormac follows the Earl to New York to seek revenge. He befriends a captive African on the voyage, a friendship which proves to be providential. Cormac is shot during a slave revolt. Kongo uses his powers as a babalawo to revive him and give him a gift: as long as he never leaves Manhattan, he will live forever.
The rest of the book follows Cormac through notable periods of New York history: he fights in the Revolution, he’s a reporter in 1834 during a severe water shortage, and he befriends an imprisoned Boss Tweed. The book then skips the entire 20th century. The last third is an involving story of Cormac’s relationship with a girl from the Dominican Republic, who, in the summer of 2001, obtains a job in the World Trade Center.
Hamill creates some memorable scenes: Cormac’s warm childhood, his believable relationship with Delfina, and the sights and especially smells of the water-starved city. But some incidents are too politically correct. The scene where Cormac harangues George Washington on the evils of slavery is totally unbelievable. Cormac’s character is not particularly well-rounded—he exists to hang the history lessons on. And Hamill does not address how Cormac coped with people’s suspicions over the centuries of a man who never aged.
If you dislike a dose of the fantastic with your history, you won’t like this book. Die-hard New Yorkers and fans of journalist Hamill will overlook its flaws and take his hymn to Manhattan to heart.