We are living in a time of social change. The Great Gatsby was written in a time of great social change. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the book in 1925. It is a pleasure to read as it has great, beautiful use of language, and wonderful characters and scene development. |
“The American Irish” describes the book’s “intimation of mortality, the capacity for awe, the sense of life’s mystery and man’s frailty, and the demanding moral standards that Fitzgerald learned from his religious experiences and Irish heritage.”
Fitzgerald was also a keen observer of society and the books shows some of the changes in American society he saw.
Writing about the book and the period, Matthew Bruocoli writes, “The reaction to American participation in World War I (1917-1918)…triggered disillusionment, moral revelation, social experiment, and hedonism.”
And that was before the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1919 and the beginning of Prohibition in 1919. These influences changed America. We will see many future changes in the America we live in.
Barlow Goes Forth by John McAllister
Reading the new Barlow book was a delight. This is because the book is so well-written and the John Barlow character is so well-drawn that he becomes a real person. The Barlow character is based on memories McAllister has of a real policeman so respected by the people in the town that he would go about his work unarmed.
Barlow began working as a policeman in 1936. He took an oath to protect the people in the town and he feels responsible for them too. He is the “station sergeant” for the police station in Ballymena in County Armagh in Northern Ireland during the 1960’s. He is blunt, but kind. He “lets no one know of his kindness” because he feels it wouldn’t due to show this aspect of a policeman. They are thought to be very strong at all times.
Humor in Northern Ireland is subtle, not raucous. There is much humor in the book, but you have to watch for it. During World War II, Barlow directed an unexploded bomb disposal unit. Several of the people in the town served with him and are still grateful for his guidance.
John McAllister is an amazing person too. “He is an accountant, but found time to earn a Master’s Degree in Philosophy and in Creative Writing at the Oscar Wilde Center at Dublin’s Trinity College. Also, he and his wife have two children.
The Trouble in Northern Ireland were like a civil war from the 1970’s through 1998. “John shared the hurt of his clients and friends when their businesses were destroyed. People used laughter to get them through those dark times.”
Barlow asks one of the local people, Edward, to accompany him for the interview. Barlow feels the person to be interviewed would be more relaxed with him along.
“Edward twisted around in his seat to stare out the back window. It didn’t surprise Barlow that Edward had sensed them being followed. It was something he had passed on to Barlow during the war. Edward had taught him to use his senses to find unexploded bombs, when to defuse a bomb, and when to run for his life.”
The book’s events take place during the Cold War with Communist Russia. A person Barlow meets says, “Forget the bomb, forget the Russian’s nuking us in our bed. We’re waging an economic war to see who runs out of money first.”
Barlow says, “What’s that got to do with it?”
The person says, “The Russians are selling us radios. So cheap that we buy them instead of British made ones. They take sterling out of the country and the workers in our factories lose their jobs and go on the dole.”
“Aye, said Barlow finally understanding the danger of the economic situation. If they’ve got our money and we’ve got the unemployed, they could walk in and take over anytime they liked.” That is like Communist China today.
This was the time of the Cambridge Spy Ring scandal. The most famous of those spies were Bargass and Maclean. In our country, we had Alager Hiss, Whitaker Chambers, and the stolen secret documents left in hallowed out pumpkins!
During a routine investigation, Barlow discovers a Russian spy: a young woman. However, Barlow wonders why she come to rural Ballymena rather than to London or Belfast. Unless, he thinks, she is here to meet the most important spy in Northern Ireland.
Barlow, and his daughter, are invited to a formal party by Sir Anthony and his wife. They live in the best part of town; are wealthy and pillars of the community. They know everyone and know something about everyone.
Sir Anthony is above reproach: suave, debonair, middle-aged, wearing the best of clothes, refined, and from the upper class. He represents influence and power.
Barlow says, “Sir Anthony made great play of being Knight of the Realm and Privy Councilor…” A police superintendent tells him a Privy Councilor is “entrusted with ultra-important secrets that they must never even hint of.” That makes it a perfect position for a spy.
Barlow becomes suspicious when he learns that Sir Anthony went to Cambridge during the same period as Burgess and Maclean.
During the party, he says to Sir Anthony, “There’s a lovely graduation scroll in your hallway from Trinity College, Cambridge. Burgess and Maclean were Cambridge men and…there are a lot more traitors in the Cambridge Spy Ring that we don’t know about. A hell of a lot.”
Barlow “wanted to spit. How people, educated people who should have known better could betray their country, was beyond him.”
During a routine investigation, Barlow learns from a known criminal that he has the Twenty Year Economic Plans of Britain and wants to see them. Barlow explains that the Russians and their spies would kill him. This turns out to be true. After a search of the dead criminal’s house, the Plans are recovered. They are in a box, maybe eight inches across, and two feet long.
Barlow convinces his superintendent about Sir Anthony being a spy. Barlow tells a junior officer who is unflinching in follow orders: “I can’t tell you how vital that package is to the future of this country. If it got into the wrong hands, it will destroy our economy for generations…The country would be bankrupt.”
When Sir Anthony tries to take it, “that package does not leave your hands until you pass it over to the Chief Constable in person.”
Then, Sir Anthony says, “Barlow, you didn’t know it yet, but you’re a dead man.”
Much later when Barlow hears the news of Sir Anthony’s death in a minor car accident, “He wonders how such a simple accident could have resulted in his death.”
What a surprising end to a powerful and extraordinary book.
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