They came by boat from a starving land—and by the Underground Railroad from Southern chains—seeking refuge in a crowded, filthy corner of hell at the bottom of a great metropolis. But in the terrible July of 1863, the poor and desperate of Paradise Alley would face a new catastrophe—as flames from the war that was tearing America in two reached out to set their city on fire.
Paradise Alley, Kevin Baker's follow-up to Dreamland, makes full use of his skills as a top historical researcher. Paradise Alley concerns a tumultuous moment in the record of the Civil War: the 1863 New York riots that followed President Lincoln's decision to create a draft. Baker refers to the street violence as one of the worst instances of civic unrest in American history. Yet one can't tell a compelling story with simple pronouncements. Baker gives us a handful of characters--fictional, yet emblematic--who lead readers through the dense weave of class, race, ambition, gender politics, and violence in mid-19th-century America. More importantly, Baker has that rare gift of establishing crucial links between the past and the present, of helping a reader understand that we live with the consequences of history. A hugely ambitious project, Baker wrestles with his responsibility to the overall vision as well as to many, many outstanding moments, and for the most part he gets the balance right. --Tom Keogh