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'One-Eye' a Masterful Tale of American Revolution

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

"Johnny One-Eye" is the title of a new novel by veteran author Jerome Charyn. Reviewer Alan Cheuse says the book is a masterful retelling of our nation's fight for independence.

Professor ALAN CHEUSE (Creative Writing, George Mason University): The Johnny of the title is a Tom Jones-like-rebel rouser who roams Manhattan Island wielding a musket. His story begins in 1776, and it's really the story of the American Revolution delivered in what Johnny calls his rascal tongue of a voice.

In the opening pages, towering long nose General George Washington spares Johnny from the news and charges of prison. It is possible that Washington, the father of his country, might also who've fathered Johnny with bow(ph) of Gertrude who runs at thriving lower Manhattan bordello?

As the war unfolds, Johnny delivered sharp portraits of some major revolutionary war players including Admiral Richard Black Dickhow(ph) and his brother William, general of the occupying British army. There's also the (unintelligible) English Colonel Andre, the legendary Benedict Arnold and his fetching American wife who's doing some of her own espionage for the British.

Charyn augments history's cast of characters those folks present of the countries birth, with some wonderful fictional inventions who ought to have been there, even if perhaps, they weren't. Among these are brothel keeper Gertrude as well as a smart Caribbean prostitute named Clara who spies for the Americans.

I was always at the edge of things, Johnny tells us. But from that vantage point, he gives us a straightforward, firsthand account of how history and personal destiny tangle up together. In fact, there's scarcely a character in the novel who doesn't speak frankly, unless it's one of the tight-lip British.

With his dialog, Johnny turns our attention to all things revolutionary from how some of our ancestors fought the war that sundered us from colonizer England to how they constantly or, so says Jerome Charyn, fornicated up the storm so that everyone might be born free.

BLOCK: The novel is "Johnny One-Eye," a tale of the American Revolution. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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