Monday, June 4, 2012

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: Trinity by Leon Uris

Where have I been? Why all the blog silence? I’ve had a couple of real-world distractions recently, but I have been reading. I’ve been steadily working my way through my historical fiction/history book club’s latest selection, Trinity by Leon Uris. This epic set in early twentieth century Ireland runs just under 900 pages. But length is no excuse for the slowness of my reading. I don’t think it’s ever taken me this long to read a novel of this length before.

Trinity is the story of the Irish Catholic struggle against English Protestant oppression in the years before WWI. It explains the condition of the dirt poor Catholic peasantry and how they were kept in dire poverty by a corrupt political system abetted by religious bigotry.

Uris allows for no shades of gray in his portrayal of the greedy British aristocracy, manipulating the working poor Irish Protestants against the Catholics. He covers an immense amount of historical, political, and cultural material to produce an informative if one-sided account. It’s a very readable way to learn the material and it is a novel, after all, so the bias can be overlooked in favor of the story.

Trinity is primarily the story of Conor Larkin, a heroic protagonist who did not seem so much a man as the embodiment of the Catholic cause. Conor springs from a long line of doomed Catholic rebels. Freedom fighting is his destiny. The book follows his lengthy path to martyrdom. It also follows the lives of his various nemeses, showing just how formidable they are so we know what Conor is up against. More than formidable, the obstacles are insurmountable. Perhaps even more depressingly, he recognizes his fight isn’t winnable but he is driven to fight nonetheless. The book also gives us capsule introductions to the women in his life because, of course, the great man attracts great loves.

Trinity was first published in 1976 and is recognized as a classic of historical fiction. I can understand its popularity. I learned a lot about a topic that has always intrigued and confused me. It does contain many compelling scenes, particularly the climax. And it has some memorable characters. However, I found it a plodding book overall. I think it’s because the characters never really engaged me. Even though the situations were suitably gripping–I could understand that monumental wrongs were being committed and I cared about the fact that this or things like it had happened to people in Ireland--I didn’t really ever care that it was happening to characters in the book. These particular fictional characters fell flat for me.

How can this be? Conor Larkin is supposed to be one of the greatest, manliest historical fiction superheroes. Uris certainly had the hero-worship thing going and did his best to insist that the reader get on board. Conor was so perfect that his only weakness was letting love-of-his-life number two see him grieving deeply the violent death of love-of-his-life number one. Conor bravely fights every fight despite his dislike of violence. He survives beatings that would kill mortal men. He performs the equivalent of walking on to a professional sports team when in his thirties without having so much as practiced in months and becomes the star player. He is a talented, essentially self-taught blacksmith who is a better artisan than men with world renown in the profession. And he is the man who comes up with all the brilliant military plans for the Brotherhood when everyone else is stumped about how to proceed. Oh, and he is the handsomest man in all of Ireland.

I might have been able to hop on the I-Can-Read-About-Conor-Larkin-for-900-Pages bandwagon with more enthusiasm if Uris had not given him one particular fatal flaw: he is utterly humorless. True, there wasn’t much to smile about in this story of the downtrodden Irish, but I like my superhuman heroes to be able to laugh at themselves. Conor is humble, naturally, but he is seriously humble. However, Conor is intended to be a brooding, melancholy, poetic hero, and humor would have been out of place in Trinity.

This is a very good book club book, sure to stimulate a lot of discussion. A few of our members are re-reading it, and already have said how much they love it, so my lukewarm reaction is a minority opinion. And, now I’m ready for book club and I’ve read something by Uris.

I’m adding this to my list of books read for the historical fiction challenge. Check out the challenge at Historical Tapestries.

5 comments:

  1. Hmm, I don't think this sounds like a book for me - I don't find the historical period the most interesting, which makes it a lot of pages to get through! Didn't Uris also write Haj?

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  2. you should read it. It's a great book, and I disagree, I think all the characters are engaging. takes all kinds to drive on the freeway.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. There was a typo so I deleted my previous comment.
    I started to read this book and feel it is going to be a good reading.

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  5. I wonder why Leon Uris wrote about Ireland?

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