I was fascinated by Andrew Joyce’s new generational saga, because in many ways his tale of Irish refugees in America is our family’s story too. The famine at the heart of Mahoney brought my mother’s family to America as well. It would take almost two more centuries for scientists to identify HERB-1, the strain of plant pathogen Phytophthora infestans that caused the potato famine in 1845. But there are different facts still resonating in the generational memories of the survivors’ descendants.
Of course, the “Irish Problem” wasn’t a new one, as Jonathan Swift’s satirical A Modest Proposal showed in 1729.
Despite over a hundred government commissions, 61 special committees of the British government, and one snarky Modest Proposal, by 1844 Benjamin Disraeli concluded that governing failures had resulted in, “…a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, an alien established Protestant church, and in addition the weakest executive in the world.” At the beginning of the blight in 1845, Ireland was already producing enough food, flax, and wool to feed and clothe twice its population of nine million. Some say that due to the export levels of those goods, the famine was actually artificially caused by the absentee aristocratic landlords and policy failures of British governors.
Whatever its causes, the ensuing famine resulted in the deaths of over a million people in Ireland, and emigration of two million more including my mother’s family. That migration certainly changed the face and future of the country they left behind. Arguably, the Irish additions changed the American melting pot as well.
Blurb:In this compelling, richly researched novel, author Andrew Joyce tells a story of determination and grit as the Mahoney clan fights to gain a foothold in America. From the first page to the last, fans of Edward Rutherfurd and W. Michael Gear will enjoy this riveting, historically accurate tale of adventure, endurance, and hope.
In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey. After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849. Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.
- Book Title: Mahoney
- Author: Andrew Joyce
- Genre: Generational family saga/American history
- Release Date: 19 May 2019 (William Birch & Assoc. Publishers)
My review: 4.5 out of 5 stars for Mahoney
Devin Mahoney, the descendant of kings, lay on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin, waiting for Death to take him by the hand and lead him out of this world of misery.
It’s not exactly the first line of Andrew Joyce’s new generational saga Mahoney, but I’m betting it was the one he wrote first. Mahoney is a coming of age story in three parts, both for the three generations of an Irish immigrant family it encompasses, and even more for America, the country they help to shape.
When we meet Devin Mahoney in Part One of the saga, he’s dying of hunger during Ireland’s potato famine, probably around 1846. The mixture of absentee landlords, repressive taxes, and remnants of feudal land systems combines with crop failure to create a perfect storm of economic devastation. Devin has already lost his family to the rampaging diseases of the workhouse when the landlord’s agent informs him he’s being evicted from his family farm and sent to America.
The nineteen-year-old’s journey across the ravaged landscape of Ireland, followed by the horrific passage on a “coffin ship” are personal glimpses into the slow-moving train wreck that was Ireland. Devin’s determination to return to his homeland as a rich man after making his fortune among the supposed ‘streets paved with gold’ in America slowly matures into a resolve to make a life for himself and his young family in the new land. In the best generational saga tradition, Devin’s life in America is a clean slate, written in a new country.
Devin Mahoney arrives at a pivotal moment in the history of the young United States. Through hard work, he builds a life and home in America. He becomes a husband and a father. But Devin remembers the virtual slavery of his youth, and feels he owes it to the past and his dead family in Ireland, as well as the future and his new family in America, to join the fight against slavery when the country heads into Civil War.
Part Two takes up the tale of Dillon Mahoney, Devin’s son. If Part One resonates with my own family history, it’s in Part Two that Andrew Joyce settles into his comfort zone, writing confidently about a western landscape and period he’s researched extensively and knows intimately. While Dillon’s father’s story was of America on the brink of Civil War, the son’s tale embraces that most pivotal of American self images, the Wild West. Never mind that the actual “wild west” only lasted about thirty years (roughly 1865-1895). Revolvers were newfangled inventions that only were accurate to about 50 feet, and (at least in the earlier models) would burn the shooter’s hands. The famous Shootout at the OK Corral occurred when Sheriff Virgil Earp, along with his deputized brothers and Doc Holliday, enforced Tombstone’s anti-gun ordinance. The only things that occurred less frequently than shoot-outs were bank robberies—probably less than ten across that period.But even though history (and Hollywood) got so much of it wrong, there’s still something compelling about that period that defined so much of what we Americans believe ourselves to be—adventurous, brave, and entitled as hell.
It would have been easy for author Joyce to plunk his young hero down in the middle of the stereotype: the cowboy on a cattle drive, the quick-draw sheriff in gun duels with bank robbers and cattle rustlers. But unlike his father’s story, Dillon’s tale is told in the first person, offering readers an intimate look at the next pivotal period in America history, the westward expansion. Hearing Dillon’s voice and sharing his thoughts both makes his story more immediate and compelling, and also keeps him from becoming another stereotypic hard-eyed hero of the Wild West.
I looked down at my still-smoking gun as if I had never seen it before. ‘Keep ’em covered, Bob. I’ll be right back.’
Still holding my gun, on unsteady legs, I walked to the back of barn and emptied my gut, splashing my boots in the process.
On that fiery-hot day in the middle of nowhere, in a godforsaken patch of desert, I learned that it is not easy to kill a man. It’s not easy at all, even if the man needed killing.
Dillon’s is the essential middle generation role, successful owner of his position in the world, fully assimilated and at home in a way his Irish immigrant father never could have been. At the same time, America as a country is coming of age, accepting and embracing its role in the world.
Part Three tells the story of Dillon’s son, David. In a generational saga, this third generation Mahoney’s rebellion against the preceding generation’s values and restrictions echoes his grandfather’s disgust with the past—a similarity only made possible by David’s confidence of belonging to his father’s world.
Again, this coming of age is an echo of America itself as it’s thrust from the glitter, self-satisfaction, and excesses of the 1920s into the grim reality of the Great Depression. In keeping with that loss of identity and confidence, David’s tale is again told in the third person, like that of his grandfather Devin. For example, David watches his world collapse after the stock market crash with the same fatalistic passivity as his grandfather lying on his dirt floor in Ireland waits for death. But David is also the product of his own father’s successful assimilation and confident place in his world. David’s encounters on the road, and especially with survivors of an actual horrific racial attack in Rosewood Florida, awaken the same disgust at injustice and determination to do something about it that connect him firmly to his father and grandfather. Or, as Dillon puts what is essentially the theme of the book,
If good men don’t stand up to evil, the bad men will win, and this land will never be tamed.
David, the grandson of immigrant Irish Mahoneys, is a synthesis of the preceding two generations—a mirror of America’s own struggles to accept a place on the world stage while still coming to terms with a past and present that include slavery, discrimination, and intolerance.
Mahoney isn’t a perfect book. Having just three men embody a hundred years of history meant they had to do too much, be too many places, and sometimes coincidence seemed too forced. But if you look at it as a generational saga of an entire country, as viewed through a small intimate family mirror, the overall effect is mesmerizing.
I already knew Andrew Joyce as a terrific storyteller (in the best Irish tradition?), but in Mahoney I see him as a terrific writer as well, from the overarching vision to the minute details of the story. He gives just enough detail to allow readers to build a scene in our own mind, while allowing his characters to grow, to change, and to learn, and above all, to make their new land into a better place for those who follow.