A huge, riveting, deeply imagined novel about the siege and fall of the Alamo in 1836--an event that formed the consciousness of Texas and that resonates through American history--The Gates of the Alamo follows the lives of three people whose fates become bound to the now-fabled Texas fort: Edmund McGowan, a proud and gifted naturalist whose life's work is threatened by the war against Mexico; the resourceful, widowed innkeeper Mary Mott; and her sixteen-year-old son, Terrell, whose first shattering experience with love leads him instead to war, and into the crucible of the Alamo. The story unfolds with vivid immediacy and describes the pivotal battle from the perspective of the Mexican attackers as well as the American defenders. Filled with dramatic scenes, and abounding in fictional and historical personalities--among them James Bowie, David Crockett, William Travis, and General Santa Anna--The Gates of the Alamo enfolds us in history and, through its remarkable and passionate storytelling, allows us to participate at last in an American legend.
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A novel about the Alamo promises as much suspense as a movie about the Titanic: we already know how it's going to end. The bloody siege of the Alamo was, of course, not only the defining crisis in the Texan struggle for independence from Mexico but also an event that secured martyrdom for the 200 or so men who died there and transformed a dusty Franciscan mission into a national shrine, an American Troy. As with all mythologized chronicles, however, the Battle of the Alamo ultimately resolves into mundane fact, a catalog of human error, ego, and heroism. And it is these details that Stephen Harrigan regards in his broad and powerful third novel, The Gates of the Alamo.
Passing lightly over the oft-profiled Alamo stalwarts--Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and the young commander William Travis--Harrigan focuses on fictional secondaries, primarily botanist Edmund McGowan and mother and son Mary and Terrell Mott. Rigidly devoted to his work, Edmund straddles the fence in the dispute over Texas, even as war murmurs grow. But when he meets widowed Mary, who maintains her small inn with a steady, gentle resourcefulness, his good nature pulls him steadily into the inevitable conflict. Mary herself is forced to quarter Mexican soldiers; and then, as she watches incredulously, her young son seeks to test himself in the erupting skirmishes. Eventually the trio find themselves inside the Alamo during the nearly two-week battle, their various conciliations frustrated by the surrounding mayhem.
Harrigan's Texas is an uncertain, dangerous jostling of peoples, a place where disaster threatens too frequently, where practical knowledge is paramount and political ambivalence untenable, and where a primal beauty appears often as if by magic: "Hundreds and hundreds of lush gray cranes ... spanned the sky almost from horizon to horizon, and the whole procession moved with the quiet, ordained manner in which events unfold in a dream." However, the emblematic significance of the Alamo itself remains inscrutable. As Mary tends to the dying, watching hope turn to hopelessness, she can only respond to Travis's rallying orations with disillusionment: "She had heard enough of these empty patriotic effusions by now to feel that the Alamo was nothing but a sinking island of rhetoric." The Gates of the Alamo nonetheless sweeps us into the many and variegated smaller stories that compose the larger one. It's a book to remember. --Ben GutersonFrom the Publisher:
"Following the examples of novelists like Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry . . . a genuinely moving epic and, paradoxically, yet another unforgettable Alamo."
"A time and a place, a vanished world in which gallant death and honor still held tangible appeal, while merciless slaughter was more likely the rule, are evoked with great skill."
-- New York Times Book Review
"Riveting . . . The strength of Harrigan's extraordinarily authentic novel is in its superior storytelling."
-- The Washington Post
"In a large, lush book [Harrigan] eloquently and dramatically recasts the myth that was born on March 6th 1836. . . . [His] gift to us is an artful, intelligent novel that makes the hard work of memory terrifically worthwhile."
-- Boston Globe
"Harrigan retells the story of the Alamo with consummate skill, weaving a wealth of historical detail into a tight, moving human drama. . . .[He] has crafted a compulsively readable historical drama on a grand scale, peopled with highly believable frontier personalities--Mexican as well as American--and suffused with period authenticity."
-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Harrigan builds slowly and surely toward the story's inevitable, impressive climax, examining in thrilling detail his several protagonists' quests for both freedom and fulfillment. . . . An original work of high distinction indeed: as fine a historical novel as any within recent memory, and far and away Harrigan's best book yet."
-- Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"We have the first great novel of the 21st century. . . . This is storytelling at its finest, an opportunity to learn and be royally entertained at the same time. . . . Has the potential to join history-based novels such as Gone With the Wind and Lonesome Dove as eternal bestsellers as well as critically acclaimed titles. A stunning literary achievement."
-- Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
"The Gates of the Alamo is a crackerjack good read. A moving story of ordinary human beings caught up in extraordinary events . . . In the final analysis, The Gates of the Alamo is as good a novel about the Texas Revolution and its most famous incident as has ever been published by anyone."
-- Texas Observer
"For all readers, not merely historians or others fascinated by the heroics of the story. It deserves a place among the best books ever written about this legendary battle."
-- Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Stephen Harrigan's The Gates of the Alamo is a graphic, beautifully written account of that savage confrontation that makes us care about the people on both sides of the wall."
"So deft in richly authentic detail that it's easy to forget this is a deeply imagined yarn . . . The Gates of the Alamo is a picturesque historical saga comparable to Lonesome Dove and The Killer Angels . . . a new masterpiece in the literature of fact."
-- Christian Science Monitor
"A heart-stopping, realistic depiction of the Battle of the Alamo."
"A rare achievement...Readers will learn more about the real story of the Alamo from this book than from many of the histories that have appeared over the years, and yet be treated to a compelling human story."
-- William C. Davis
"Although fiction, The Gates of the Alamo joins that short shelf of works deserving permanent use when searching for the everyday events behind the myths and legends of that enormous time -- a time involving not just that handful of persons within the Alamo mission walls, but the fate and future of three nations. The author has done a remarkable job of making us part of those tense, fearful and uncertain days when the defenders of the fabled place had to make life or death decisions while undergoing constant bombardment and conflicting rumors of rescue. The immortal question is: did they stay out of bravado or out of hopeful expectation? Stephen Harrigan gives considered answers which add real dimensions to this outsized history that has become part of the world's vocabulary."
-- A. C. Greene
"The Gates of the Alamo represents a remarkable blending of historical framework and fictional narrative. After years of painstaking research, Stephen Harrigan has crafted a story that has the ring of authenticity, stripping away much of the romanticism that has always encrusted the Alamo story, yet revealing the far greater drama of fact-based storytelling. Thanks to the author's synthesis of the latest and most authoritative Alamo research, readers will learn more about the real story of the Alamo from this book than from many of the histories that have appeared over the years, and yet be treated to a compelling human story at the same time. That is a rare achievement, and one surely destined to draw a host of readers through The Gates of the Alamo."
-- William C. Davis, author of Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Bowie, David Crockett, and William Barret Travis
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