Summary and book reviews of Forever by Pete Hamill

Forever

by Pete Hamill

Forever
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2002, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2003, 640 pages

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Book Summary

This unforgettable novel tells the epic tale of an extraordinary Irishman who arrives in New York City in 1740 and remains... forever.

From the bestselling author of Snow in August and A Drinking Life comes this magical, epic tale of an extraordinary man who arrives in New York City in 1740 and remains... forever.

Departing the shores of Ireland, Cormac O'Connor sets out on a fateful journey to avenge the deaths of his parents and honor the code of his ancestors. His quest brings him to the settlement of New York, seething with tensions between English and Irish, whites and blacks, British and "Americans," where he is swept up in a tide of conspiracy and violence. In return for aiding an African shaman who was brought to America in chains, Cormac is given an otherworldly gift: He will live forever—as long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan.

So unfolds the story of the intertwined lives of a man and a city. Cormac comes to know all the buried secrets of Manhattan—the way it has been shaped by greed, race, and waves of immigration, by the unleashing of enormous human energies, and above all, by hope. Through Cormac's eyes, we watch the city grow from a tiny community on the tip of an untamed wilderness to become the thriving metropolis of the present day.

A writer, a painter, and a man of sensual appetites, Cormac takes part in the dramas of his times through fat years and lean. He is an insurrectionist, abetting a slave revolt in the early days of the colony. He is a revolutionary, taking up arms in the war of independence. He is an activist, taking up pen to bear witness to social injustice. And he is a chronicler of Manhattan, from its great triumphs to its greatest catastrophe.

Through it all, Cormac must fight, generation after generation, a force of evil that returns relentlessly in the scions of a single family. It is a family whose path first crossed his in Ireland and whose persistence puts at risk all his hopes for fulfilling his destiny. As he searches out these blood enemies, he must watch everyone he touches slip away: the men at whose side he has fought, the friends he has treasured, the women he has loved. And so he seeks the one who can change his fate, the mysterious dark lady who alone can free him from the blessing and the curse of his long life.

Drawing on Pete Hamill's bone-deep knowledge of New York City—its history, its neighborhoods, its people, its ever-changing variety—Forever is his long-awaited masterpiece, a Shakespearean evocation of the mysteries of time and death, sex and love, character and place. It is both an unforgettable drama and a timeless triumph of storytelling.

CHAPTER ONE
IRELAND

And what a people loves it will defend.
We took their temples from them and forbade them,
for many years, to worship their strange idols.
They gathered in secret, deep in the dripping glens,
Chanting their prayers before a lichened rock.

- John Hewitt, "The Colony," 1950


There he is, three days after his fifth birthday, standing barefoot upon wet summer grass. He is staring at the house where he lives: the great good Irish place of whitewashed walls, long and low, with a dark slate roof glistening in the morning drizzle. Standing there, he knows it will turn pale blue when the sun appears to work its magic.

The boy named Robert Carson loves gazing at that house, basking in its permanence and comfort. On some days, a wisp of smoke rises from the chimney. On other days, the early morning sun throws a golden glaze upon its white facade. It is never the same and always the same. He sees the small windows like tiny eyes in the face of the house, the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Cormac O'Connor is given the opportunity of a lifetime--to life forever. Before he's actually granted immortality, Kongo insists that Cormac "must truly live," not "simply exist." Does Cormac fulfill that mandate? Given Cormac's experience, would you choose to live forever?

  2. With Cormac's arrival in Manhattan, we see that ethnic diversity is a predominant feature in eighteenth-century New York. The city is a cultural meeting place for British colonists, African slaves, and Irish immigrants, to name a few groups. In what ways do these groups come into conflict with one another? In what ways do they live side by side harmoniously?

  3. Cormac participates in some of the key ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly

Veteran journalist/novelist Pete Hamill composes a fantastical ode to the city that never sleeps.

New Yorker

The book's central conceit could almost have come from the pages of Twain or Bellamy, but Hamill pulls his story fiercely into the present by centering the final phase of Cormac's narrative on the World Trade Center attacks themselves.

Washington Post Book World

Hamill's long history as a New York journalist, his knowledgeable love for the city and his writerly exuberance explode here into a New York fantasy big, extravagant, untrammeled and as hugely readable as it must have been hugely entertaining to write.

Publishers Weekly

This rousing, ambitious work is beautifully woven around historical events and characters, but it is Hamill's passionate pursuit of justice and compassion....that distinguishes this tale of New York City and its myriad peoples.

Kirkus Reviews

A true Hamill piece by turns fascinating, sentimental, hackneyed, and provincial in the best New York mode. It won't play in Poughkeepsie, but there are plenty of New Yorkers (and New York-ophiles) who will love it.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

Hamill writes with great detail, which adds texture and spice to, rather than impeding, the narrative's swift movement. As always, he is perfectly enjoyable to read for his great felicity of style (obviously derived from his years as a journalist) as well as his originality of plot. This absolutely embracing novel is certain to hit the best-seller lists.

Reader Reviews

Cheryl

A great read! A novel twisted with much historical fact...I only wish that my grammar school text books were this interesting...I would have done much better in history! Aside from the story, I learned much about the history of Manhattan, the ...   Read More

Emily

Kind of a let down
This book was on my summer reading list for AP language and I was excited to read the book as it seemed really interesting. On the back of the book, it was compared to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, both amazing fantasy novels. However, this one...   Read More

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