Bérénice's Reviews > Paradise Alley

Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker
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's review
Dec 11, 2008

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Read in February, 2004

If it was not for the length of the book i would give it 4 stars, but not more. The book is overall about 7 characters, 3 of them who originally came to ireland, who live in NYC during the 1863 draft riots.

The first 400 pages of the book are about Ruth, an irish girl, who came over to the US with Dolan (a brute she met over in ireland and who saved her life). His entire family died during the potato famine of the 40s and he's going to NYC where his Sister Deirdre lives. She is married to Tom who ends up going to war on her request. All those characters live on the same street, Paradise Alley. Because Dolan beats Ruth constantly, she finds a lover who cares for her, his name is billy dove and is black, which makes the affair all the more secret. On paradise alley also lives Maddy, a prostitute whose favorite customer is Herbert, a reporter for the NY tribune.

So these are the main characters, and their lives are told for 400 pages, i'm not going to give any more details because they are boring, just like the first 400 pages are. It drags on and on and has nothing to do with the riot. It is indeed important to know the past of characters to understand why they behave certain ways, but 400 pages was way too much, 50 would have been enough.

The author uses each chapter to talk about the lives of each characters. That's not a bad idea, some of the events are told several times through the eyes of different people. However, there is no chronology, the author keeps going back and forth in time constantly for no reason. When there is a chapter that actually gets exciting and suspensefull, the author stops it just as something is about to happen and comes back to it 300+ pages later. That's not a good way to build suspense, it's frustratin more than anything else.

If it was not for the last 200 pages, this book would get 1 star. The last 200 pages are wonderfull. They describe the riots in great details, through the eyes of a journalist and also through the eyes of Billy Dove, a black man in the city trying to escape white's people's rage against his race. The details can be very gruesome and disturbing, the author spending several pages describing the torture of an irish soldier among other horrible events. It will make you sick to your stomach.

While i was ready to stop reading the book after page 400, i'm glad i kept going. You wont' be able to put the book down until the end after then. Along with the description of the riots, you witness what happens to the main characters as their stories all come together in a terrible fight between neighbors.

If you don't mind long readings or just love to read anything about life during the mid 1800's, this book is for you. If not, read a summary of the first 400 pages, and read the last part.
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