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Billy Gogan, American

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The Billy Gogan story is a fictional memoir told by an old Army general of his adventures as a young man. Billy Gogan, American, opens with recently orphaned Billy Gogan fleeing Ireland on the eve of the Great Hunger — either because he is the son of a dangerous revolutionary, or because his cousin doesn't trust him around his daughter. Billy and his traveling companions, an Irish peasant named Máire and her young daughter Fíona, endure the harsh passage to Gotham but get separated as they debark. Billy searches for them in the dangerous Five Points, ground zero in the collision of Americans, ex-slaves, and Irish refugees.

Here, Billy completes his education. Already able to declaim Cicero and construe Aristotle, he learns voting fraud from Bill Tweed, the future head of Tammany Hall. Charlie Backwell teaches Billy the numbers game. Finally, Brannagh O’Marran, the beautiful mulatto daughter of the Irish madam of Gotham’s finest knocking shop, teaches him about love.

Billy eventually finds Máire and Fíona, and the three of them plan their future together. But that future is taken in a cruel stroke, and Billy must flee for his life.

416 pages, Paperback

Published May 17, 2016

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Roger Higgins

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Displaying 1 - 18 of 18 reviews
1 review
May 2, 2016
Billy Gogan is a great story about the emigartion of young man from Ireland. The story follows him on great adventures through the five points of america, the mexican war and so much more. It's a very entertaining adventure.
Profile Image for Grady.
Author 50 books831 followers
March 23, 2018
“You heard me, Gogan. Your father has betrayed all true Irishmen.”

Born in Cheshire County, England author Roger Higgins emigrated with his family to the United States when he was 6 years old, schooled here, and joined the US Navy to became an officer aboard a guided-missile destroyer in the Pacific fleet and later as fire control officer for the USS Missouri’s 16 inch guns. On retiring from the Navy, Roger became a lawyer working first as a clerk for a Tax Court and later as a partner in a law firm dealing with bankruptcy cases. Of note, Roger states he ‘greatly admires the practice group leader’s philosophy of practicing law, which is to get the best outcome possible for your client, never re-trade on a deal, and if you must stab someone, don’t stab him (her) in the back; look the person in the eye and then stab her. You’ll be treated the same way, when the time comes. Oh, and never sell your reputation. Once sold, you can never buy it back again.’ He continues to practice law while polishing his skills at writing novels.

Reading the biographical information on Roger Higgins is a fine introduction to the writing style of this very polished scribe. His book is historical fiction with as much emphasis on historical facts and knowledge of the period about which he writes as the characters he creates to dramatize the immigrant core of the meaning ‘American.’ Few writers, present or past, have captured that elusive essence of how this country was founded and is still supported by the influx of peoples around the globe who search for the dream – the lamp of liberty that provides hope for a better life.

And where better to originate this journey of an immigrant than Ireland – the source of some of the richest traditions of success and of crime as any single country’s subsequent American citizens. In a memorable Foreword we discover the author’s father’s manuscripts, the first dated September 15, 1915: ‘My name is Billy Gogan. This is my story of how I became an American.’
To condense the points of the novel we rely on the author’s synopsis – ‘The Billy Gogan story is a fictional memoir told by an old Army general of his adventures as a young man. BILLY GOGAN, AMERICAN, opens in 1844 with recently orphaned 15-year-old Billy Gogan fleeing Ireland on the eve of the Great Hunger — either because he is the son of a dangerous revolutionary who died in prison, or because his cousin Séamas doesn't trust him around his daughter. He boards the New York bound Maryann, observes the mysterious murder of his friend Father O’Muirhily by a man in black, befriends a destitute Irish peasant named Máire Skiddy and her young daughter Fíona, and together they endure a harsh passage to New York, America's greatest city. They get separated as they debark, and Billy searches tirelessly for them in the dangerous Five Points, ground zero in the collision of Americans, ex-slaves, and Irish refugees. Billy completes his education, learns voting fraud from Bill Tweed, the future head of Tammany Hall, and the numbers game from Charlie Backwell, Tammany's top bookie. Eventually he locates Máire Skiddy and her daughter, and they develop a close brother-sister relationship. Finally, Brannagh O’Marran, the beautiful mulatta daughter of the Irish madam of Gotham’s finest brothel, teaches him about love. Billy plans a future with Máire and Fíona together, but that future is threatened in a cruel stroke, and nothing will ever be the same: the murderous man in black observed during the departure is haunting Billy.

Fold together the splendid Irish language (there is a fine glossary of Irish terms in the back of the book), the flavors and scents of Ireland and New York, a dissecting eye of the evils of the crime wherever it appears in the story and the result is a hypnotizing tale that defines the origin of not only Billy Gogan but of each of us at our point of entry, past historical or recent, into America. A brilliant tour de force – fortunately to be continued!
Profile Image for Stephanie H..
116 reviews4 followers
March 10, 2018
Billy Gogan, American by Roger Higgins is a gripping story that perfectly mixes together history, mystery, and the human element for a new look at Irish immigration in the 1800s. Of course, this isn’t your average immigration story, either. Billy Gogan has an even bigger boatload of trouble waiting for him in America than the average immigrant of this time, and that’s saying something for a nineteenth-century Irishman.

Billy Gogan has fallen from grace in the eyes of his fellow Irishmen. Partly his father’s fault and partly his own, Billy is sent down from St. Patrick’s College in Ireland to cousin’s home following his father’s untimely death, only to be given a ticket for the Maryann, a ship destined for New York City. With no other family and no real choice, Billy takes that fateful step toward the golden shores of America. Only this fresh start is soured from the start as he witnesses, from the ship, the murder of his mentor Father O’Muirhily by a man in black. Unable to report the incident, all Billy can do is puzzle over why that man killed the priest as he heads for his new home. But what does fate have in store for this fifteen-year-old immigrant? Will he be able to settle into a normal life, or will he be plagued by yet more trauma? And who exactly is the man in black?

This story is full of love, kinship, corruption, and mystery. We get a glimpse into voter fraud, the slums of nineteenth-century New York City, and the forbidden love our young hero develops for a beautiful mulatto girl. Higgins balances out the bad with some good, such as Billy forming a brother-sister bond with fellow Maryann passenger Mary Skidder. However, he does not wash out the troubles Billy has, either. In fact, your heart will ache for him by the time you’re finished reading.

In addition to excellent writing and character development overall, I was astonished by how well-research this novel was. I’m a bit of a history nerd, and Higgins could’ve easily fooled me into thinking this was a true memoir. The forward by Niall Gogan, grandson of Billy Gogan, helps set the stage quite nicely, and Higgins manages to capture the Irish speech and spirit almost flawlessly. Of course, as I’m not Irish I will never know just how true the voice is, but from my perspective, it’s amazingly accurate. (It helps that I had a bit of fun reading the truly Irish names rather than the Anglicized versions.)

All in all, this book is perfect for history nerds for me. It’s quite the time commitment at around 400 pages and the use of the glossary provided is necessary, but the story is worth the extra effort. If you’re not a history nerd, you might find this book a little tedious. However, the mystery and corruption rampant in the novel, as well as the coming-of-age element, might be enough to pull you in anyway. All I can say is that you have to read it first before you judge it. Personally, I can’t wait to see where Billy’s story takes us next, and thanks to the sneak peek in the back, I can have a little taste of it now!
Profile Image for Susan Keefe.
Author 11 books52 followers
March 31, 2018
Billy Gogan’s epic adventure begins as he leaves Ireland for a new life in America…

Lose yourself in the pages of this exciting historical novel as you follow the adventures of Billy Gogan, an Irish orphan sent to America on the eve of the 1844 Irish Famine. Discover the dangers he faces as he lives by his wits, and does what he has to, to survive….

The author of this exciting adventure story, Roger Higgins was born in Cheshire, England, and he emigrated to America with his parents and younger brother just before he was seven. Today he lives with his wife in Chicago, Illinois and is immensely proud of his four children.

He served on a guided missile destroyer and other ships as a naval officer, he then became a lawyer, and had various other jobs, eventually becoming a partner at a firm with the grandest bankruptcy practice of them all. He still practices law on a smaller scale and enjoys writing novels.

It is this diversity of knowledge, and life experiences which the author has used to full effect in writing the story of Billy Gogan – American.

The book begins with the 15 year old Billy Gogan in school, however, suddenly his life changes forever when he learns that his father has died in mysterious circumstances in prison. Following this devastating news he is informed by Father O’Muirhily that he must leave his native Ireland and start a new life in America. Passage has been arranged for him on the Maryann.

Forced to travel in steerage he meets in the boarding queue Mary (Máire) Skiddy a young widow, and her young daughter Fiona. When a sailor mistakes them for a family they are bunked together, and a firm friendship is formed. However the voyage hasn’t even begun before Billy witnesses the death of Father O’Muirhily on the quay, but was he pushed, or did he fall?

The vividly descriptive historical writing of this author enables his reader to really get a feel for the lives of his characters. The harshness of life on board ship, the living conditions, and the terrible weather they endure during the voyage, are acute reminders of what travel used to be like.

When the Maryann eventually docks in Gotham, New York, Billy Gogan is distraught to discover that he has become separated from Mary and Fiona. Despite various attempts to find them, he is unlucky, the Five Points district of New York is a dangerous blend of ex-slaves, Americans, and Irish refugees, he can only hope they are safe.

Straight away he manages to find board and lodgings, and after starting work as a brick carrier, being quick to learn, he soon finds himself working as a bookkeeper for the notorious Magee.
There, as if by fate, he is reunited with Mary and Fiona, and they begin to plan a future together...

Through Billy we discover what it was like in those times not only to travel to and survive in a foreign country, but also to make a new life, and learn about love, hate, and the myriad of emotions in between.

I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful historical novel and am looking forward to discovering what happens next in the life of Bill Gogan – American.

Profile Image for John J..
78 reviews3 followers
May 21, 2018
In “Billy Gogan: American,” author Roger Higgins has created a sweeping epic saga of one Irish immigrants passage both across the Atlantic Ocean to a new land and his coming of age from boy to man. Orphaned at the young age of 15 and cast out of his family, Billy Gogan is left to make a new life. It is in the telling that Billy’s true self is revealed along with his ability to assimilate. The novel is so well researched that it reads most of the time more like a journal, diary or memoir. And it is enriched with tenderness, love and more than the usual ration of heartache. At a time when the question of what it means to be an American has rarely been so relevant, this novel answers that question and so much more.

The first half of the book takes place either on Irish soil, in the wild West of “the olde country” or aboard the New York bound immigrant ship “Maryann”. Billy’s journey to America gets off to an inauspicious start, when he witnesses the murder of one of his mentors and friends, Father O’Muirhily by a man in black. This stranger becomes something of a nemesis for Billy, even when he has started a new life in America. The Trans-Atlantic passage is a perilous one, and Billy’s will is tested. Aboard the Maryann, he meets a woman with a daughter, and the three form a bond that Billy hopes to continue once ensconced in America. But the partners lose track of each other debarking from the ship, which begins a long search by foot for them in Gotham, America’s biggest and most threatening city.

It is that search which leads Billy to the infamous Five Points section of Gotham (New York City), a hard-scrabble, lowdown collection of some of the most treacherous and duplicitous new arrivals and ex-slaves. Here Billy uses his advanced intellectual talents (and math skills, as well) to get involved in the numbers racket and meets a young William Tweed, future head of Tammany Hall. It is during his time in the Five Points that Billy also falls in love with a mullato daughter of a madam who runs one of Gotham’s finest brothels.

All of this is written in a narrative that rings true on every page along with dialogue that is pitch perfect. In fact, the dialogue is so accurate to that place and time, author Higgins precedes the novel with a glossary of Irish slang and contemporary expressions. This is the kind of story that one simply does not want to end and it is heartening to learn that there is more to come about Billy Gogan from Roger Higgins. One can imagine, perhaps, a series of several more books about this fascinating character.

As a second generation Irish-American, I loved reading Billy Gogan and it make me thirst for more. But this is more than a book about Irish immigrants. It’s a book about the melting pot which came to be called America. One can learn a great deal about America in this novel. And in that lesson, we learn a great deal more about ourselves.
Profile Image for Pamela Gossiaux.
Author 15 books13 followers
April 9, 2018
Adventure and Love Warm Tale of Early Irish Immigration to America

Travel into the world of Irish immigration, starting as Billy Gogan is fleeing from the oppression of the violence in Ireland and his own father’s death. Dangers lurk everywhere, from the ship that crosses the Atlantic, to the Five Points slums he moves into when he reaches the city of Gotham (New York) in 1844. Complete with Irish brogue, Billy Gogan, American is a masterfully written historical novel that will thrill historians as well as anyone who loves a good adventure story.

The gentleness of young Fiona, who has immigrated with her mother and whom Billy is teaching to read, adds warmth to a story that takes place in a very harsh environment, where often the only goal seems to be survival. Brothels, voter fraud, gambling, and violence fill the streets of America’s worst slum, which even captured the pen of Dickens, so great was its oppression. Higgins’ prose weaves together a world not only of violence, but of love, tenderness, compassion and the incomparable strength of the human spirit.

Bill Gogan, American, is first and foremost a tale of adventure, but I learned so much about our history while reading it! It sheds some light on what it was like to be an immigrant, and touches on the beginnings of some of the beliefs and cultural nuances that linger in our world today.

There is also a glossary of Irish terms in the beginning of the book, and I absolutely love Higgins’ website. It is the best author website I have seen! If you love Billy Gogan, American, you’ll be excited to learn that there are three more books coming up in the series, the second one due out this fall.

Grab your copy of Billy Gogan, American, and enjoy! What better way to learn about history? Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Asher.
64 reviews8 followers
September 27, 2018
Billy Gogan, American by Roger Higgins is the fictional tale of a young man's transition from a life in Ireland to his settlement in the United States. It begins with Gogan's Irish backstory at the onset of the country's potato famine, where Billy is prompted to leave under multifarious circumstances. The passage is brutal but he survives (whereas his companion Father O’Muirhily does not) with the friendship of Maire and Fiona. All three make it to New York but its only Billy who emerges unscathed in New York's Five Points, where Maire and Fiona have seemingly vanished into thin, polluted air. A search ensues and continues as Billy settles in, learns the ropes, finds love, and grows as he crosses paths with some of the Five Points and Higgins' most fascinating, duplicitous characters. Maire and Fiona resurface, but the brutality of mid-19th century New York and the seemingly omniscient “man in black”continue to haunt Billy and those he loves at nearly every turn.

Billy Gogan, American is a truly ambitious undertaking by Roger Higgins. At times reading as closely to a memoir as it does to a work of fiction, Higgins brings a cast of characters and settings to life with an authenticity that is every history lovers dream. The undertaking could not have been easy, with dialogue that is accented with the same purity imparted in Higgins' detailed scenes. Billy's story is layered and interesting even when the writing (on rare occasion) lapses into substance over style. This is not a light read but it most certainly is a worthy one, and I'm comfortable recommending it to those who love a good adventure with a deserving protagonist as well as readers who get excited over meticulous detail and classic storytelling.

Review written for Readers' Favorite.
67 reviews
February 10, 2019
Not a big fan... I did enjoy the story beginning with Billy's life in Ireland at the private school and his troubles stemming with his fathers association with O'Connell. From the time he boards the Mariann bound for America things take place that are hard to follow but you keep reading assuming the picture will clear up. It really doesn't and leaves too many unanswered questions from the man in the funeral suit to the big questions about the last fateful day and why events are blamed on blamed on Billy by his benefactors. Finished the book with too many unanswered questions.

Profile Image for Kathy Heare Watts.
5,720 reviews176 followers
November 27, 2017
I won a signed copy of this book during a Goodreads giveaway. I am under no obligation to leave a review or rating and do so voluntarily. So that others may also enjoy this book, I am paying it forward by donating it a local library.
Profile Image for Frank.
746 reviews21 followers
November 18, 2019
Enjoyed this story of a young man's escape from Ireland and the trials in his first year in New York.
Wonderful descriptions of the Five Points section of NYC, the grit and the political machinations of it all.
50 reviews
March 10, 2018
Enjoyed this book. Love the history and the real life characters. Hard to put down. I was however, shocked to discover that this is Book one and Billy 's saga continues in a second volume!!
Profile Image for Heather.
5 reviews
August 30, 2016
I came to this one not knowing quite what to expect, honestly thinking of the Five Points of Gangs of New York fame - which was the extent of my knowledge of the period. It delivered a much better look at the Five Points and so much more. The novel takes young Billy Gogan from a respectable upbringing in a respectable school from a respectable family to a lone fifteen year old boy shipped to America to make his way in the world on his own. He has to grow up fast, but Billy becomes the little brother to the chosen criminals in New York who he has befriended so he retains some of his innocence and teenage angst you would expect from a coming of age story. His smarts are what gets him by.

We don't get to see New York at first though,because the first half of the book is Billy's fall from grace and subsequent shipping to America. He befriends a young widow and her daughter and they make the voyage together across the hard sea, becoming closer and closer so that he arrives in America with an adopted older sister of sorts and young niece who he feels responsible for. When he finally lands in New York, he has already had a hard journey but has a strong back and a willingness to work along with some luck and ends up making things work for himself. You can look forward to his friendship, in a Forest Gump turn of events, with the local bosses, including a young Bill Tweed of future Tammany Hall fame - who take advantage of his education/smarts and in turn show him the ropes of the Five Points.

What is great is that while there's great character development and a good story here - you also get a good history lesson because you can tell reading it that there was a great amount of research to get the culture of the era right - from the history of the time, to the clothing, to the ships' inner-workings, to the language. The language is what really takes you back though and drops you right in the middle of the masses who fled Ireland to land on American shores from the point of view of an educated youth who can talk you through the process of translating and learning about the Five Points while he's learning it himself. There's an interesting denouement that makes it clear there is more of Billy Gogan's story, and I can't wait to read it!
Profile Image for Gary Buslik.
Author 7 books2 followers
May 25, 2016
Higgins is a bare-knuckled story teller. In this brawny novel, he transports us to the hardscrabble lives of mid-1800s New York Irish immigrants. Though each day brings a new brawl for survival, under Higgins's deft touch, the heartbeat of tenderness, love, and even racial enlightenment pulses through "Gotham's" brutal veins. Higgins writes with a masterful sense of place. His argot and descriptions are so spot-on, you need to close the book and look around your own room to remind yourself that you really are safe and sound in the here and now. In this rough-and-tumble page-turner, Higgins's prose is congenially resonant, sprouting flowers in the cracks of Gotham's squalid sidewalks. His dialog is pitch perfect: In his characters' barbaric vernacular, he manages to find the lilting tune. Despite this being a story about hard times in a tough city, Higgins manages to find the soft side of the human soul. There's something here for everyone. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
9 reviews1 follower
December 6, 2016
I'm not usually a big fan of historical fiction, but I really enjoyed Billy Gogan: American. This story is about Billy, a teenage boy at a posh school in Dublin whose life turns completely upside-down after his Republican (pro-independence, not GOP) father dies under mysterious circumstances. Billy is forced to leave Ireland and fend for himself in the New World, where he encounters a wild cast of characters in Lower Manhattan. Higgins did a tremendous amount of research about life in Ireland in the mid-1800s, the passage across the Atlantic (unpleasant), and New York (think "Gangs of New York"), and he weaves real historical events into the narrative throughout. It's set up for a sequel, and I look forward to reading whatever Higgins comes up with next. Overall, I thought it was very well-written and enjoyable to read, and I'm going to pick up copies for my dad and grandpa for Christmas.
1 review1 follower
May 30, 2016
It was such a delightful read. It full of beautiful writing and great character development. I cannot wait for the next installment and urge as many people to read this story. It was a page-turner and read similarly to Erik Larson's strong historically accurate researched novels, like that of "The Devil in the White City" and "Dead Wake." I can easily see this book making it to the big screen! Loved it!!!!!!
48 reviews10 followers
October 25, 2016
I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway and it was much appreciated.

I love tales of adventure! This book combines adventure with just enough of a human personality. (I don't like action movies that add in pointless love stories.) You feel for the characters, but you don't get those wasted emotions. It combines a little history with a lot of trials and tribulations and tells the story of a young man's journey to America and adulthood.
1 review
September 5, 2016
To those who love rich descriptive writing coupled with adventure and American history this is the book to read. You actually feel that you are standing next to the character (Billy) or at the very least are in the same room with him. Great story, a tribute to those first arrivals to America. Shows the true grit and spirit of our early immigrants and what it took for them to survive.
Profile Image for Laura Ouimet.
26 reviews
April 14, 2020
I was really disappointed to get to the end of this story, only to find out that you must read a sequel to find out what happens next! :-(
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