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Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This remarkable novel unfolds in a Manhattan split asunder by the Revolutionary War, where every street had been turned into a ditch. Here we follow the picaresque adventures of John Stocking, a double agent who has a talent for placing himself in jeopardy, and Charyn traces, at a breathless pace, his adventures on both sides of the Revolution, beginning with Gen. George Washington sparing Stocking from the gallows. With a superb eye for detail, Charyn shows Stocking's efforts to help the Revolutionary Army's ever-eroding hold on the city while coping with the machinations of the British Army's Howe brothers, Sir Billy and Lord Admiral Richard, as they execute their assault on the rebel forces. At the same time, Stocking is engaged in a journey to discover who his father is. Charyn provides a stunning gallery of characters, including an elegantly treacherous Alexander Hamilton; Stocking's guardian angel, the outrageous madam Gertrude Jennings; Gertrude's star prostitute, the exotic Clara; and Benedict Arnold, whom John calls the one hero I've ever had. Charyn's command of time and place is masterful: the reader can practically smell the gunpowder that suffuses the war-torn city. As a kaleidoscopic view of a tumultuous era, the book deserves to be spoken about in the same breath as E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. (Feb.)
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From The New Yorker
Set on Manhattan Island during the Revolutionary War, this leisurely picaresque concerns the adventures of an orphan reared in a brothel who loses an eye when he follows Benedict Arnold into battle. Johnny is a man of both nations; he joins up with Arnold as a secret agent for the British, but his admiration for him is genuine. His feelings are further complicated by his discovery that George Washingtonhere gentle, intelligent, and tortured by love for the brothels madammay be his father, but ultimately his loyalty lies with his true love, an octoroon prostitute named Clara. Charyn skillfully breathes life into historical icons like Arnold, Washington, and Alexander Hamilton, and constructs a careful plot of shifting alliances, roving spies, and double-dealing.
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Top customer reviews
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Perhaps this novel's only pratfall is its winding monster of a plot. While interesting, it can sometimes become confusing and hard to follow. It seems to abruptly change course at times, without much warning, and lose the reader as it does. This is not a very huge problem for the book, however, as it always seems to come back to understandable ground in the end.
Johnny One-Eye is worth every penny, and I am very glad I decided to purchase it. It is perhaps one of my new favorite books, and its ambiguous hero will leave his mark on the reader's mind just as he did on other characters in the book.
Among the many virtues of "Johnny One-Eye" is Jerome Charyn's skill at imitating authenticity: his invention is convincing. I couldn't resist questioning the veracity of the tales no matter how rediculous, e.g., "Did the president really say that to his favorite prostitute?" and "Did she really slap Alexander Hamilton's face?" There are dozens of such instances where one scraches his head in wonder at whether or not a specific episode could ever really have happened.
One can't not like "Johnny One-Eye," it's too creative and imaginative to dislike, but the book sometimes "feels" too long and a trifle laborious with it's fondness for gossip-style tattle-tailing. The book, however, can't be beat as a bedside table read in short bursts rather than two-hour non-stop marathons. I recommend it if only because you'll never lack for cocktail party conversation about its episodes.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Like the American Revolution, Johnny One-Eye experiences all the ups and downs of the spy's life as he dodges about trying to please both sides.
Definitely worth your while.
Real characters interact with the fictional and it produces a rather strange mixture, not to mention the convoluted prose used to tell the story.
Most recent customer reviews
Cover: I was graciously sent a hardcover copy of Johnny One-Eye, so I will be reviewing that cover.
I love this cover.Read more
In the early years of America, a ragged group of volunteers, led by George Washington,...Read more