This novel took a long time to get going. To begin with it is the story of Shan Keegan – a young boy of twelve living with his brutal, drunen uncle in Dublin. We’ve read too many of these stories.
It got interesting when Shan gets his chance to go to America and upon arriving at Ellis Island he tags along with an Italian family, the Capellos. Their son Tomasso has died and Shan fits in at immigration, calling himself Tommy. “It’s fascinating, really, when you think of it. How a person can slip into a new life as one would a new pair f shoes.” Can Shan pull it off?
The Capellos are a warm and loving family, especially Mrs C. Their son Nick and Tommy, while “brothers” are very different. The daughter Lina plays a minor role, but Mr Capello embarrasses Tommy, his new son, taking him to Yankees games, teaching him a trade, insisting that he finish school. Life in New York is not easy for immigrant families – the crime, the bootlegging, the gambling in speakeasies and the various mobs collecting a “protection” tax from shop keepers. But Shan is a survivor. He observes. He listens. He studies people. He believes in second chances.
So when Shan winds up in Alcatraz, it is his innate character, his ability to become someone else, that keeps him alive. This was the part of the book I liked best. We are given an inside look of the famous prison – the daily life of the inmates, rewards for good behaviour, the corruption of the guards, life on the rock for families of employees. It is very well researched, with successful characters who you feel you know – complete with flaws, big hearts and redemption.
Letters From Home
The Pieces We Keep
……….and several others
Alcatraz is a small island located 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco. It was a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison (1868) and a federal prison from 1933-63.