Captains and the Kings is a far-sighted novel

Who'd think Captains and the Kings so low key?
Staid all-type dust jacket belies the explosive story of Captains and the Kings.

Taylor Caldwell read the news and saw the future.

In Captains and the Kings, she tells the story of a boy who came to America to escape the Irish famine in the early 1850s.

By the time he arrived, he was 12, an orphan with a younger brother and infant sister to care for, and America didn’t want any more Irish.

Both honest and ruthless, as “Joe Francis” teenage Joseph Francis Xavier Armagh outsmarted and outworked men twice his age.

Brains and discipline put him in the way of luck.

Friends were unwaveringly loyal to him.

Women fell for him.

His children loved him, though he did nothing to win their love.

What makes Captains and the Kings an unusual historical novel is that Caldwell puts Joseph into situations where wealthy men behind the scenes plot how to quite literally take over the world.

Their plan includes the establishment of income taxes in every country in the world, extermination of the middle class via taxation, and “prudently scheduled” wars around the world “to absorb the products of our growing industrial and technological society.”

Captains and the Kings has an exciting plot interwoven with a powerful message for readers with the guts to take it in.

Captains and the Kings by Taylor Caldwell
Doubleday, 1972. Book Club Edition. 695 p.
1972 bestseller #7. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The writing of the green: bestsellers about the Irish

Irish writers are as famous as Irish whiskey: What reader hasn’t heard the names Bram Stoker, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift,  Oscar Wilde,  C.S. Lewis?

Yet best-selling novels featuring Irish characters are a fairly recent development.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here are three recommended vintage novels featuring Irish characters that will entertain you and perhaps give some insight into the history of the Irish at home and abroad.

Kitty Foyle

1939-10-Kitty_FoyleKitty Foylethe heroine of Christopher Morley’s 1939 novel of that name, is a Philadelphia working-class girl from Irish immigrant stock.

She’s smart enough to be considered college material and dumb enough to fall for a Main Line guy whose family would never have accepted an Irish working-class daughter-in-law.

Kitty provides a glimpse into the second-generation Irish immigrant each-foot-in-a-different-world experience of the 1930s.

Joy Street

joy-street_200Joy Street by Frances Parkinson Keyes, 1950, gives a glimpse into the Irish absorption into America’s professional class.

The story is about Emily Field whose lawyer-husband’s firm, reaching out the the Boston immigrant community, hires a Jewish lawyer, an Italian lawyer, and an Irish lawyer.

Roger both likes and respects his colleagues, but Emily’s family is less than enthusiastic about immigrants who didn’t arrive on the Mayflower. Even Emily isn’t sure she’s keen on Irishmen, but she comes around.

The Edge of Sadness

1961-09-fc_edgesadnessIn his 1961 novel, The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O’Connor explores stereotypical Irish characters, who by 1960 have become a political and economic force in Boston.

The leading character is an over-50 priest, Father Kennedy, who after four years in a western facility for alcoholics , has been brought back East to lead a down-at-the-heels parish. The parishioners are primarily immigrants from post-war Europe and South America, too busy trying to make ends meet to come to church.

Have a good day reading of the green.

Grandmother and the Priests: Bedtime stories for adults

Taylor Caldwell’s Grandmother and the Priests is not really a novel, but a a collection of short stories.

The stories are supposedly told by Roman Catholic priests who dined at the Leeds home of Rose Mary O’Driscoll Cullen.

Though an old woman and without morals, Rose Mary respected priests, made them welcome at fine dinners where, after wine and whiskey, they told stories.

Medieval church door
Medieval church door

Most of the stories are about poor priests in remote villages of the British Isles where roofs leak, fires are never warm enough, and hunger is a familiar occurrence.

Often the story is of a priest in his first parish, growing up fast as he struggles against loneliness, hardship, ignorance, and occasionally against domineering sisters who know how a parish ought to be run.

Grandmother and the Priests is a good book to put on the bedside table. Some of the stories will make you smile, others will make you tear up. All the stories are just long enough to combat insomnia, and just heartwarming enough to make you feel cozy until you feel drowsy.

Grandmother and the Priests
By Taylor Caldwell
Doubleday, 1963
469 pages
1963 bestseller #6
My grade B-
 

Photo Credit: medieval wooden door by Ayla87

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni