Wednesday, September 16, 2009
by David Chacko & Alexander Kulcsar
(Foremost Press / 0-981-84188-0 / 978-0-981-84188-5 / July 2009 / 446 pages / $18.97 / Amazon $17.07 / Kindle $6.99)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM
I have always enjoyed good historical fiction, especially when set during the “days of fighting sail,” wooden ships and iron men and so forth, and since David Chacko's and Alexander Kulcsar's Gone Over takes place during the American Revolution, I expected to find it entertaining. I did, but more on that shortly.
I had never heard of the main character, one Israel Potter, but he was a real person. Wikipedia provides a thumbnail sketch: "Israel Potter (1744-1826) was... born in Cranston, Rhode Island. He had been a veteran of the Battle of Bunker Hill, a sailor in the Revolutionary navy, a prisoner of the British, an escapee in England, a secret agent and courier in France, and a 45-year exile from his native land as a laborer, pauper, and peddler in London." Such a man is clearly a fine subject for fictional treatment, all the more so because most details of his life are largely unknown. Mssrs. Chacko and Kulcsar are not the first to take advantage of this. The best known was no less than Herman Melville, whose serialized treatment of Potter's life was ultimately published in 1844-55 as a short novel, Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile. This work is of interest today mainly as an early example of Melville's developing narrative skills, and not as a creator of accurate historical fiction.
Being more a member of the tribe of general readers than a historian, I can report that Gone Over meshes with the mileposts of Potter's life reported in Wikipedia, but more gratifyingly, it fleshes out that life in most convincing detail. Perhaps the finest accomplishment is conveying a sense of the times – grand times, we think today: revolution was in the air. Great things were being done, by heroes! But few people would have thought that at the time. The colonists would have felt terribly overmatched against the mighty British Empire, sandwiched between British Canada and the (mostly) British Caribbean, threatened by large, well-equipped armies (including German) conquering American cities at will. Spies and loyalists were everywhere. Everything was in doubt, living was hard, and fear and anxiety would have been the order of the day. Gone Over conveys this ambience well, better than the histories that I am familiar with.
We see the terrible conditions Potter endured as a prisoner of the British. When he is offered a minor job as a spy, he accepts more out of a sense of self-preservation than loyalty to his fellow Americans. He finds he is good at spying, and gradually is given more important assignments. One of the most important is traveling to France, meeting Benjamin Franklin and dealing with some of the British spies around him. (Franklin is convincingly portrayed as well.)
Another assignment takes him back to America, to help recruit Benedict Arnold to the British cause. There, family connections, old acquaintances, romantic liaisons, and the dicey tactical situation take center stage.
There's no need to lay out the larger plot: all Americans know it (or should know it). Potter's life goes full circle as well, being given its own arc, and its own resolution, by the authors, couched in a prose style that, to me at least, nicely straddles the historic and the modern. Let me add in passing that the editing and proofreading are very nearly perfect. This is a completely professional product, a fine read, and a worthwhile book for lovers of good fiction.
See Also: Dr. Past's Review of Echo Five
Jack Dixon's Review of Devil's Feathers
David Chacko's Website