A posthumous novel by Uris, who died, at 78, on June 21, celebrates the Marine Corps, as did his first, Battle Cry, now marking its 50th anniversary.
O’Hara's Choice centers on Marines who fought in the Civil War and clarifies how their spirit lives on: especially that of legendary Sergeant Paddy O’Hara, whose courage and élan reside in his son, Captain Zachary O’Hara. Do the men under the O’Haras’ commands come as alive and demand our attention as deeply as do the “gyrenes” of Battle Cry? Well, passages of period description in Washington and research into the lives of Manhattan immigrants often stretch forth into a fine singing voice, for it’s O’Haras we speak of here. Paddy is Corporal O’Hara as the battle of Bull Run starts and the Marine lines fold against Rebel artillery. Assisting Paddy, whose officers are all dead, is Wally Kunkle, 13, the Marine drummer boy. Time shifts throughout the story, back and forth from battle to decades later, with Paddy given the Congressional Medal of Honor, promoted to the honorary top enlisted rank of Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and then retired and running a saloon in Lower Manhattan, while Wally Kunkle becomes Master Gunnery Sergeant. All this glory leads to son Zachary’s problems with his da’s greatness, even when Zach woos Amanda Kerr, a wealthy heiress who wants to build a women’s college. Uris’s title is ambiguous: it refers to Zach’s own long tenure in the Marines serving as a veil to cover up his father’s deepest secret, and also to his need to resign from the Corps if he’s to marry Amanda, escort her around the world, and help build her college.
Bloody battles well done, much excellent period writing (aside from love-stuff), and altogether a recovery from 2002’s woozy A God in Ruins. (For our review of 1953’s Battle Cry [“It’s terrific . . . Don’t miss it”], go to www.kirkusreviews.com.)