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Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American…

Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution

by Jerome Charyn

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Article first published as Book Review:Johnny One-Eye by Jerome Charyn on Blogcritics.

In the early years of America, a ragged group of volunteers, led by George Washington, dealt with the American Revolution and fighting for freedom. Many of them began as farmers, and yet become a part of history and recorded as heroes. Many of these men became the forefathers of our nation and are the very reason and beginning of our independence.

In Johnny One-Eye, Jerome Charyn has used history and rumors of the time, to build a story of heroes, a tale of love and revenge, and of the difficulties and possibilities of the revolution. He has used actual events and characters in history and peopled it with imaginary characters and events of his own.

Drawing from dark times of revolution, Charyn has given us a novel set during the eight years of the revolution, a gritty and difficult time. He uses Johnny as a character and narrator, which ads a different and unique take on the times. Johnny is a young man raised in a whorehouse and a double agent as many were during those times. He first comes to our attention when caught trying to poison Washington’s soup. Johnny is relatively educated and often works as a scribe, and it is during one of these missions, scribing for Benedict Arnold that he loses his eye.

Johnny seems to lead a charmed life, getting in and out of danger while balancing his confusion and concerns about the war. He loves his king, and yet now that he knows him and understands him a bit better, he is drawn to George Washington. There are also the rumors that he may be the illegitimate son of George Washington, a rumor that seems to keep him alive. Both sides have a bit of a soft spot for him, and yet there are those too that want him dead. He is in love what Clara an octoroon whore whom he grew up with and it is obvious to all in the know that the Madame is his mother. This all plays a part in this story and his mother is set as the other woman in Washington’s life.

Through the difficulties and avenues traveled by Johnny, we learn of many of the characters of the time of the revolution, notables such as Hamilton, Arnold, General Clinton, King George III and Washington himself. Set mainly in Manhattan and surrounding areas we read of the skirmishes and problems encountered by Washington and his crew. We learn about the courageous African stevedores and slaves that lay their lives on the line to help make this a new country free from England’s control. Full of both darkness and lightness, it is also full of real history and information as well as riddled with fiction.

Charyn has taken us to a time in history, when America was just becoming a new nation. His descriptions of the times and events both real and imagined, take you inside of the pain and anguish of the characters involved. You feel as though you are there, the descriptions of the winter scenes with Washington and his men such when they left bloodied trails because of lack of money for warmer clothing and shoes, left a lasting impression on me. While I read much of this same information during history classes in school, it was dryer and less real. Charyn makes it real, you can feel their pain and also feel their love and adoration of their leader. It is what keeps them fighting in the harshest and worst of conditions.

Johnny One-Eye is an engaging character that creates more of a story, and gives us an opportunity to see the unfolding of our history from a different and unique perspective. His involvement with both the women of the whorehouse as well as his own bits of intrigue keep it interesting, giving us both a more in-depth look at reality, and offering us a different perspective of events.

Jerome Charyn brings us wonderful fictional characters and weaves them into actual events in history, setting encounters with actual historical figures, which creates an interesting fictional history that reads like reality. Often truth is stranger than fiction, and while the added characters come from imagination, the truth of the times only adds a darker more sinister cast. The character of Johnny adds a bit of humor to a story that could be quite daunting.

If you love historical fiction, you will enjoy Johnny One-Eye. It is riddled with the actual events in history and is a different and more mercurial look at history. It is a view as evidenced by a young man, in the middle of a time of turmoil. This would be a great book for a reading group or book club.

This book was received free through Tribute Books. All opinions are my own based off my reading and understanding of the material. ( )
  wrighton-time | Jun 19, 2011 |
Recently I've been in a historical fiction binge, that is why when I received the email to participate in the blog tour of Johnny One-Eye I sign up immediately. I should preface this review with a confession, I am not familiar with N. American history beyond two courses I took while doing my bachelor's degree (long story short I only live in the US now when I go to university), so to me this was a novel concept to explore when it comes to historical fiction. This is why unless I recognized the name directly from my US History course, I did not know which were fictional characters or not until the author's note at the end of the book.

Unlike say 99.99% of the historical fiction I've read this book is centered around a male protagonist. Scandalous! But incredibly refreshing. The narrator is John Stocking himself, who happens to lose an eye in a battle and thus is known as Johnny One- Eye. Johnny's voice is spot on for a man of the era, and because he is somewhat educated and very aware of what is happening around him we get very interesting details of the revolution. There are hints of him being George Washington's (I recognize that name!) bastard son, Johnny has also interactions with Alexander Hamilton (another name i recognize from my US History course!). Johnny is often pining for Clara, who happens to be the "most coveted harlot" at the whorehouse where Johnny grew up. When it comes to Clara I'm a bit unsure what to say, I did not feel like she was a well developed character. We are told who Clara is as opposed to shown who she is. As a reader you mostly know Clara through Johnny's memories, or biased view of her. Clara's name and Johnny's infatuation with her comes up in some very funny situations, as a form of comedic relief when Johnny is sad or being tortured. I have to say I did chuckle a couple of times.Johnny becomes a "double spy" for the British through "Black Dick" Howe, and I have to say, in the beginning I was confused as to where did Johnny's loyalty lay with. This was not made any easier by the author use of transition, sometimes we were in the past in a memory, sometimes we were not.

I feel this was a light read with a splash of history, and certainly made me want to explore more historical fiction set in the US. The book comes with a picture of an old map of New York which I loved looking at the end of every other chapter. I'd like to comment on Charyn's writing style, while this is a historical fiction novel, I can safely say it does not read like a history college textbook. To me this is very important when reading historical fiction because after all I am reading this book in my spare time and as a hobby. ( )
  BookPurring | May 29, 2011 |
A book unlike any I have read. It is certainly a new and unique take on the Revolutionary War. I appreciate it for its literary creativity but I would not recommend it as a must-read. ( )
  northandsouth | Feb 1, 2009 |
The best thing about Jerome Charyn’s fictional “tale of the American Revolution” are the portraits of some of those figures which we have been reading about, in one form or another, since….well, since we learned to read. This George Washington, this Alexander Hamilton, and this Benedict Arnold are familiar to us, without question. But here they’ve stepped out of the history books and taken up temporary residence in our living rooms. The alabaster has become flesh. The granite has softened.

These founding fathers have become human - as they should have in a good historical novel. So Charyn has it half right. The novel never scales the heights beyond that, though. It’s trajectory is flat, though at a high enough level to keep the readers interest. Just on the next page we expect a little more. But the Washingtons and Hamiltons never connect with the John Stocking’s, with the Clara’s, with the Gert’s of the novel - never connect with the fictional creations that have helped bring them to life for the reader.

So in a way, Charyn’s novel is only half successful. Benedict Arnold does his job, but Johnny One-Eye never quite does his. ( )
  ChazzW | Apr 9, 2008 |
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This book is for Bob Weil.

And for the late Jim Shenton,
who loved American history
more than anyone I know.
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It was the very mask of war.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393064972, Hardcover)

"A rollicking tale."—Stacy Schiff, New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

Johnny One-Eye is bringing about the rediscovery of one of the most "singular and remarkable [careers] in American literature" (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World). In this picaresque tour de force that reanimates Revolutionary Manhattan through the story of double agent John Stocking, the bastard son of a whorehouse madam and possibly George Washington, Jerome Charyn has given us one of the most memorable historical novels in years. As Johnny seeks to unlock the mystery of his birth and grapples with his allegiances, he falls in love with Clara, a gorgeous, green-eyed octoroon, the most coveted harlot of Gertrude's house. The wild parade of characters he encounters includes Benedict Arnold, the Howe brothers, "Sir Billy" and "Black Dick," and a manipulative Alexander Hamilton.

Not since John Barth's The Sotweed Factor and Gore Vidal's Burr has a novel so dramatically re-created America's historical beginnings. Reading group guide included.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:02 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

This comic masterpiece reimagines the American Revolution with a one-eyed spy, a heroic whorehouse madam, and a cunning George Washington.

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393064972, 0393333957

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