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The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World Paperback – September 12, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Booker Prize-winning Schindler's List (on which Steven Spielberg based his Oscar-winning film) demonstrated that Thomas Keneally could make history as compelling as any novel. His latest book, The Great Shame, expands upon the achievement of his earlier fiction. This is more than just the story of the Keneally family tree, transported from Ireland to Australia in the 19th-century. It is the story of how Irish men and women came to be dispersed all over the world, and what they made of their lives in their new homes. It is the epic history of a whole people.

The Great Shame is hypnotically readable, partly because Keneally weaves his many narrative strands so expertly and touches his story with many moments of beautiful writing, but also because it is all, even at its most extraordinary, completely true. The result is astonishingly vivid. What The Great Shame most resembles is a classic 19th-century novel: Dickens, say, or George Eliot. Readers avidly follow Keneally's characters through their successes and their trials, until the very last sentence in the book when, like a master from the classic age of the novel, Keneally pays tribute to "the piquant blood and potent ghosts of the characters to whom we now bid goodbye." --Adam Roberts --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Keneally prefaced his Booker Prize-winning Schindler's List by noting that he had chosen to tell the true story of Oskar Schindler in novel form partially because "the novelist's craft is the only one which I can lay claim to." In the years between the publication of that novel and this remarkable new book, it appears that Keneally has banished any lingering uncertainty about venturing into nonfiction. But he hasn't left his novelist's craft behind. Combining a facility for storytelling with painstaking research, he has produced a lively, narrative history that is a model of the form. His subject is the plight of the Irish from the 19th century into the early 20th, and the experience of the Irish diaspora in the far corners of the world. In the 19th century, while Europe saw the emergence of a number of independent states, Ireland remained under the thumb of the British crown. By the end of the century, famine and emigration had reduced its population to little more than half of the 1841 total. Keneally enters this history by looking at his Australian homeland and tracing the history of his own family's Irish ancestry. Beginning with a poor farmer named Hugh Larkin (from whom Keneally's wife is descended) who was "transported" from Ireland in the 1830s for a vaguely political show of discontent toward his landlord, Keneally quickly sets the sociopolitical stage. Book I of The Great Shame follows the experience of Larkin (and through him, thousands of others like him) as a convict who ultimately earned his freedom and the opportunity to build a new life in a new land. Keneally simultaneously chronicles the rise and fall of Young Ireland, a group of elite, younger Irish statesmen who pushed for a more aggressive approach to independence than did Daniel O'Connell, who led the fight for Catholic Emancipation in Great Britain and Ireland. Among the ranks of Young Ireland were inflammatory writer and editor John Mitchel and future American Civil War hero Thomas Francis Meagher. Book II follows Meagher to the U.S., where he commanded the Union's famed Irish Brigade and introduced a new group of Irish insurrectionists, the Fenians, among whose number was one John Keneally, the author's ancestor. Keneally suggests several reasons for the "shame" of the title: failure, survival, injustice. But in capturing the resilient spirit of his subjects, and rendering their story with such a true and stirring touch, his book is a triumph, an invigorating, sprawling history of a people who flourished, as Irish, outside of Ireland. History Book Club main selection; author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (September 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720267
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #658,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 98 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I found this work to be a very interesting and informative narrative of 19th century Irish history. It makes the main characters such as O'Connell, Smith-O'Brien, Mitchel and the others appear as real flesh and blood people and is an enthralling read. My only criticism is that there are a number of factual errors which grate and make me wonder if there are other errors which of which I am unaware. For example, Mallow is situated on the River Blackwater not the Lee (p.24), President J.F Kennedy visited Ireland in June 1963 not 1962 (p.548), and when the Irish Free State was set up, three (not two) counties of Ulster, Monaghan, Donegal and Cavan, became part of the new state (p.635). I can recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Irish history of the 19th century and I am very grateful to Thomas Keneally for all the work which he has done to bring it so vividly to life.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Samuel W. Harnish, Jr. on February 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Independence can be won on the strength of words. Poets and newspapermen as well as politicians and generals lead the fight from Famine to the Eve of Republic.
This book traces the lives and interconnections of the important rebellious men and their families through their stands in Ireland against the conditions they saw, and their understanding of the reasons for it; 'transportation' to Australia, escapes, returns to Ireland or settlement in America. Through it all, the keen interest in conditions 'back home', and their attempts to influence it. If you have wanted to understand the relationship between the Irish Diaspora, America, Australia, and Ireland, and the depth of feelings and distrust between the Irish and the English, this is the place to start.
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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on June 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book first caught my attention, as this is the Author who penned what has become a classic both in book and movie form, "Schindler's List". The book also was to explain much about the Australian aspect of the Irish Diaspora that was a facet I had not read about. My Great-Grandfather came to the US and his Brother went to Australia, so there was personal interest as well.
The book is sweeping in many respects, its length, the time in History it covers, and the meticulous research that must have been required in its creation. The beauty of the work is it can be read as a major Historical Work or if the reader prefers, a 19th Century novel.
I found the writing to be very dense requiring more time than I normally would take to read such a book. There is so much information that if much of it is new and you wish to really get your mind around it, it requires a good deal of time. I actually read the book in parts and took time to put in to perspective what I had read. This book is probably about double the length or even more than that of the average book today, but don't deny yourself a great read because it takes two hands to carry.
Irish History is not the material that makes for many happy endings. Another reviewer mused about what they would think of this book in England, I think it would be hard to find on a bookshelf! The History of and the time that brackets The Great Famine is as grim as any human suffering you have read before. The English landlords behavior was atrocious and this book pulls no punches in that regard. The Author also talks about some of the more unsavory groups that operated in Ireland and often found themselves on a ship to the other side of the world.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Owen Hughes on May 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The story of what happened to the Irish political prisoners known as the Young Irelanders and the Fenians, in the 1850s and 60s, is expertly told by Australian writer Thomas Keneally in "The Great Shame." Sticking firmly to documented history, about the only thing Keneally leaves out is the nastier side of Fenianism, with its secret vendettas and occasional underlying brutality. But that all lies in the misty past, and Keneally has done a first-rate job of bringing much of this truculent history out into the light.
This is an epic journey, just as the formation of the Irish diaspora needs it to be. You never quite know where you are you going to go next, as ships sail back and forth from Ireland to Australia and from Australia to the Americas. It is the roaring days of sail just before steam, and gold is being discovered right and left on both sides of the Pacific, sufficient to lend impetus to various Fenian schemes through goldfields' fundraising.
One of the characters involved in the 50s was a man destined to become an American Civil War hero with the rank of general. He fought on the Union side while another Irishman who had fought the same battle as he had at home in Ireland, and had also been transported for it, fought with the Confederates. Such were the fortunes of war at that time.
The book also recounts how the Fenian forces tried on three occasions, prior to Confederation, to invade Canada in order to hurt the British in North America. They also had the long-term plan of mounting an invasion of Ireland from a Canadian base. It was all a bit pathetic in the end, but for a time, it was in deadly earnest and who could have said what the result might not have been had the Fenian forces succeeded.
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