Rutherfurd on Rutherfurd

New York

Q. From Ireland you turned to another huge subject: New York. What inspired you to take it on?

A.In fact, I'd considered the project back in 1991. I had been working in the city, on and off, for nearly a decade, first as a bookseller, then a writer, and I'd lived on both the East and West sides of the city. I was even serving on the board of a coop. But though the publishers were keen, I wasn't satisfied that my draft synopsis had the right technical structure for this particular subject, so the project was shelved, and I wrote London instead. Fifteen years passed before William Thomas, my editor at Doubleday, urged me to take it up again, and it was thanks to his gentle editorial persuasion, solicitude and enthusiasm that this book was born.

Q. And the technical structure?

A. There have been so many important strands of immigration into New York, and there are so many communities, that it would have been impossible to run, say, ten families, all in parallel. In the end, I chose a single central family to carry the storyline, with other families grafted on to this central stem, as required. So it's very similar but subtly different from the structure of my previous books.

Q. And you got every community in?

A. Of course not. No novel could ever be written that would encompass the city in all its aspects. Not even a great writer like Tom Wolfe, or Balzac could do it. But I hope that the story gives a good historical overview of the city's history, and some account of seven or eight of the most important communities.

Q. You have said that in each of your books there's an underlying theme that holds the book together. In Sarum it was Man's quest for the eternal through building in stone. What's New York about?

A. Freedom.










Did You Know?
In Manhattan in the early to mid nineteenth century, scores of pigs roamed the streets – about 20,000 of them at peak population in the early 1820’s, a ratio of roughly one pig to every five humans ! Many of them belonged to families. The city was quickly growing in the nineteenth century – in population and wealth disparity. Despite rapid urbanization, non-wealthy New Yorkers continued raising hogs as a means of surviving. A family could always slaughter one of its pigs to feed itself, or sell one of them since pork was a staple of the American diet. Why pigs? Other animals weren’t quite so compatible with urban life. People could let their pigs wander the streets, rummage through trash for the piles of spoiled food that was left out on the street during the day, and count on them to return home in the evening !

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