Author: Leon Newton
Leon Newton’s The Newspaper Boy takes a closer look at bigotry and its consequences through the eyes of a young Irishman who grew up on New York’s Lower East Side during the early part of the last century.
The story unfolds as we learn of the poverty of the O’Connor family, the rebellious behavior of one of their sons, Pat, and the tragic car accident that took the life of their youngest daughter, Moira. We are also exposed to blatant anti-Irish sentiment, where no matter how hard you try, you are never accepted socially or professionally by some of your peers and the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment.
O’Connor’s youngest son and the novel’s main character, Eric, feels compelled to fight this intolerance and gain acceptance in mainstream America. Fortunately for young Eric, he befriends a Jewish gentleman, Ira Goldstein, who agrees to finance part of Eric’s college studies. When Eric asks how he can repay Goldstein, the latter replies that he already has, since he saved his life. Eric apparently entered Goldstein’s jewelry store at the most opportune time while it was being robbed, causing the criminals to flee before they had a chance to kill Goldstein.
However, Eric realizes that even earning a law degree with straight A’s from Harvard doesn’t guarantee him a position at a prestigious law firm. Jewish, black and Irish relatives who do not need to apply signs are unabashedly present. Meanwhile, Eric marries wealth and a member of the same society who continually rejects him.
In a way, Newton challenges his readers to think intelligently about bigotry, racial and class prejudice. However, due to the brevity of the novel, these themes are unfortunately not fully developed and only come up from time to time. Furthermore, the novel would have benefited and the message would have been more effective if there had been an injection of deeper dramatization of these themes and immersion of the reader in the world of the story.
It is quite interesting to know that according to the author, whom I interviewed, there were comments that questioned how he, an African-American, had the audacity to write about the Irish. Newton was further asked why a Jewish gentleman sponsored Eric. To be sure, prejudice is still very much alive and kicking in today’s so-called modern world!
Another drawback of this novel is that it is marred by lack of editing and proofreading. Also, many of the supporting characters slide into abstraction, such as Eric’s first love Kay and her brother Pat, who play important roles in the story. There is also some incorrect historical data, placing the stock market crash in the year 1928, when it was actually 1929, and referring to Hello Dolly, which actually only got the name in 1964, although there was plenty of history of the game.
However, despite these flaws, the novel is still worth reading, as it sheds light on the theme of bigotry, class consciousness, and racism that was not only directed against Jews and African Americans, but also against Americans. Irish during the first part of the 20th century. century. Another plus is that it enticed me to keep reading to find out what the heck happens next! Newton is a good storyteller.