Leon Uris’s new bestseller, Trinity, can be best described as a politically important potboiler.
Trinity recounts the bitter struggle for Irish independence from 1885 to 1915. It is the first popular novel to dispel the myth that the Catholic/Protestant conflict is a Holy War; Uris categorically locates the source of Ireland’s misery in the unholy alliance between English imperialism and Irish capitalism.
For over 700 years after England conquered Ireland, the hapless Irish were tenants on their own stolen land, close to starvation and stripped of all rights and dignity.
England devised a foolproof method of controlling the rebellious natives: colonies of Protestant peasants and workers were established and granted better conditions. To preserve their privileges, they acted as a garrison against Irish uprisings. A tiny minority, they were brainwashed into the fear that the Irish Catholic majority would reclaim their lands and jobs.
Catholic and Protestant peasants were thus prevented from uniting against landlords, and the working class was so torn by religious bigotry that unions and strikes were rarities.
In 1916, the Irish won independence, but the victory was marred when the province of Ulster in Northern Iceland seceded. Ulster, with a slim majority of Protestants, and the bulk of Irish industry, maintained close ties to England.
Uris dramatically evokes the murderous economic exploitation and political oppression of the Irish people, portraying with contagious empathy their centuries-long struggle for national liberation and human freedom. He mercilessly condemns the reactionary role of the Catholic church and exposes the Protestant church as the main bulwark of Irish reaction.
The author shows a deep – and surprising – class-consciousness in his grasp of the lives of the people. His scenes of sweatshop conditions and appalling loss of life because of inadequate safety measures are memorable.
Uris even demonstrates the impossibility of change via legislative reform. He admires (and glamorizes) the heroic Irish radicals who led mass uprisings and created illegal organizations for guerrilla warfare.
Yet the book ends on a not of defeatism and cynicism. Conor Larkin, the existential hero, fights without hope of success for himself or the movement. “… in Ireland, there is no future,” writes Uris, “only the past happening over and over.” Lacking a revolutionary, socialist perspective, or afraid to project one, Uris finds the Irish question insoluble.
Trinity, like all Uris novels, obeys the best-seller formula: one part history, one part violence and suspense, one part romance and one part sex, and all of it poorly written. The hero is total superman: handsome, brawny, brilliant, daring, charismatic, earthy, poetic, athletic, artistic, and passionately committed to justice. He is also a skilled craftsman, a great individualist, and a sensational lover.
But the trauma of Irish working and peasant women is depicted with sympathetic insight.
Trinity should encourage the reading public to delve more deeply into the fascinating history of the Irish revolt, which is replete with inspiring testimony to the indomitable quest for human freedom.