A God in Ruins

Summer 1999 CSANews Issue 32  |  Posted date : Mar 02, 2007.Back to list

A God in Ruins
By Leon Uris (Harper Collins, 483 pages, $38.00)
The year is 2008 - the presidential race is neck and neck - between a brilliant, ruthless, Bill Gates-like incumbent, and a charismatic, liberal governor from Colorado who aspires to be the second Irish Catholic President of the United States. With the election less than a week away, Quinn Patrick O'Connell is confronted with the explosive disclosure that could shatter his presidential dream - he was born Jewish.

Master storyteller Leon Uris is in top form in this, his 12th novel. For Uris fans, A God in Ruins will be THE summer read for 1999. As in Trinity and Redemption, Leon weaves the themes of history, Judaism, Irish Catholicism, politics and family secrets.

The issues are as topical as today's headlines. With an uncanny prescience, Uris portrays the massacre of a group of teenagers leading to a national backlash against the American gun lobby. By eerie coincidence, a major confrontation occurs at an "Amerigun" convention held in Denver. This was obviously written long before the Colombine High School tragedy. An ironic touch is the master of ceremonies at the convention; a toothy, aging actor who stands "with both arms like a Moses spreading the Red Sea." Charlton Heston?

Uris portrays gun supporters as a collective group of losers, manipulated by arms manufacturers, ruthless smugglers and fundamentalist zealots. The common denominator: "poverty in youth, perhaps corporal punishment...They grow up to be losers, and band with losers in losers' bars and losers' trailer courts...So enter the weapon, the great equalizer."

The sting operation conducted against the illegal elements at the gun convention is pure, page-turning action suspense, with an intriguing Canadian angle. It is so entertaining that it prevents Uris' obvious anti-gun bias from becoming a polemic rant.

The issue of being adopted is addressed very movingly in this book. Even Quinn's parents did not know the origin of the beautiful three-year-old they had adopted through a Jesuit Monsignor, and an uncle. The secret was buried in the church's massive bureaucracy for years. As Quinn puts it, "For every orphan, there is a dual life of fantasy. The need to know your biological parents is a need to know yourself." In his case, the disclosure could not have come at a more inopportune time.

Woven in with Quinn O'Connell's life as a student, war hero and governor, is the equally fascinating saga of presidential incumbent Thornton Tomtree. Thornton rose from his father's Rhode Island junkyard to become a computer mogul and one of the wealthiest men in the world, before being elected president. The only thing Thornton lacked was compassion or a conscience, and these were supplied by his life long friend Darnell Jefferson, the black son of Thornton's father's partner.

Again and again, Uris refers to the Clinton presidency in A God in Ruins. It's interesting to look back at these turbulent years from a 2008 perspective. The observations of the Clinton historical legacy are ambiguous. From the negative image of a president discussing sex on television... "the terrible besmirchment of the president's office in the Clinton era;" to castigating the media for the "torture imposed on a great but imperfect man."

Perhaps President Clinton was the inspiration for the title, based on a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"Man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer and pass into the immortal, as gently as we wake from dreams."

A God in Ruins is an engrossing, thought-provoking novel. Enjoy!

Willa McLean is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Kitchener, Ontario.