LEGACY by James A. Michener


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Michener's shortest novel is his timeliest as well, a slick, wide-eyed paean to the Constitution that uses the Iran-contra scandal as a springboard to chronicle one family's historic passion for the American heritage. Michener names his hero Lt. Col. Norman Starr, but we can be sure it's a North Start that shines here; Start (who narrates) has just been called to testify before Congress about shady Nicaraguan contra dealings, and he lets on at once that he's "heard from everyone that [Lt. Col. Ollie North] was a fine dedicated patriot." And so is Starr and so were his ancestors, as we learn from Starr's ruminations on seven generations of patriotic predecessors--captivating historical vignettes forming the meat of the book and woven skillfully within Starr's talks with his loving wife and loyal attorney about whether to plead the Fifth during the upcoming Congressional probe. Starr's thoughts harken back first to distant ancestor Jared Start, Virginian farmer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, whose support of a strong federation propelled his son, Simon, to attend the Constitutional Convention and to sign the new document after meetings with Ben Franklin, James Madison, etc. (detailed in snippets from Simon's diary). Thus the Starrs march through US history--a Supreme Court Judge, suffragette, and war hero among them--all intimately involved with the Constitution as it evolves, is amended and reamended. And so it is that at novel's end Norman Starr, bathed in his family's Constitutional splendor, disregards his attorney's advice to plead the Fifth: for in "a blinding flash" he realizes that his job is to protect the nation, not himself, and that "that superb document will be effective only if each new generation believes in it--and keeps it renewed." Michener packs an impressive amount of historical drama into this slim novel while avoiding his usual textbook pedagogy (although the work is padded out at the end via inclusion of the entire Constitution); and if some readers will find Starr/Michener's flag-waving a tough pill to swallow ("the free world must not sit back and let the Reds run rampant"), many (500,000 first printing) will enjoy Michener's birthday present to the Constitution on its bicentennial.
Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1987
ISBN: 0749319747
Page count: 174pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1987


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