National Book Award winner James Carroll is one of those rare authors who has produced popular and provocative works of both fiction and nonfiction. His bestseller Mortal Friends was among the most successful historical novels of the past quarter century. His best-selling history Constantine's Sword galvanized Christians to reassess the Catholic Church's complicity with antisemitism. Now, in Secret Father, his first novel in nine years, Carroll once again achieves what has become his trademark: revealing the drama of history as the sum of countless choices by fallible, fragile individuals.
Secret Father is a classic story of espionage and love, set in the Soviet sector of Berlin during the summer of 1961 just weeks before the Wall is erected. Michael, Katharine, and Ulrich are students at an American high school in West Germany who travel to Berlin to join a May Day rally on the Communist side of the divided city. Propelled by high ideals and rebellion against preordained futures, the three stumble into the center of an international incident. Ulrich has taken a flight bag belonging to his father a U.S. intelligence officer unaware of its contents, and now the teens are in the custody of the East German secret police, the notorious Stasi. In their wake they draw Paul, Michael's father, and Charlotte, Ulrich's mother, in a dangerous gamble to save the children's lives.
Secret Father is a cautionary tale set during a tumultuous time that Carroll knows well: in 1961 he was a high school student in Germany, the son of an American general stationed in Wiesbaden. That summer, President Kennedy was being pressured to make a preemptive strike against the USSR but rejected the tactic as "un-American." This resulted in Cold War stalemate, the rise of the Berlin Wall, and growing arsenals of nuclear weapons. Today the policy of preemptive strikes, the process of nation-building in foreign lands, and the question of America's role in the world are once again being debated. Carroll is part of this political debate, with his op-ed column in the Boston Globe and appearances on radio and television talk shows. But Secret Father goes beyond politics, showing us how individuals and nations are often "incurably" tied to their pasts, and how we can make our way through grief to understand and accept personal and national histories.
A novel with a series of moral twists and secret pasts worthy of Graham Greene, Secret Father is a tragedy of strained relations between East and West, between a man and a woman, between parent and child. Carroll tells an unforgettable story that illuminates a key moment in history with the passions of two generations who lived it, and shows how differently Americans and Europeans saw (and continue to see) the world. Secret Father is James Carroll at his best. It will be published on the forty-second anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall.
JAMES CARROLL was born in Chicago in 1943 and raised in Washington, D.C., where his father, an air force general, served as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He attended Georgetown University before entering St. Paul's College, the Paulist Fathers' seminary in Washington, where he graduated with B.A. and M.A. degrees. In 1965 he studied poetry with Allen Tate at the University of Minnesota. He was a civil rights worker and community organizer in Washington and New York. In 1969 he was ordained into the priesthood.
The Paulists and Cardinal Cushing assigned Carroll to Boston University, where he served as Catholic chaplain from 1969 to 1974. During those years he published numerous books on religious subjects and a weekly column in the National Catholic Reporter, which earned him awards from the Catholic Press Association and other organizations. He studied poetry with George Starbuck and eventually published a book of poems. He remained active in the antiwar movement until the Vietnam War ended.
Carroll left the priesthood to become a writer. In 1974 he was playwright-in-residence at the Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1976 he published his first novel, Madonna Red, which was translated into seven languages. Since then he has published eight additional novels, including Mortal Friends (1978), Prince of Peace (1984), and The City Below, a New York Times Notable Book of 1994. Carroll writes a weekly op-ed column for the Boston Globe and is an occasional contributor to numerous journals, including The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. His memoir, An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us, won several prizes, including the 1996 National Book Award in nonfiction.
Carroll is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and serves on its Committee for International Security Studies. He is a member of the council of PEN/New England, and he served four years as its chair. He has been a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at the Harvard Divinity School. Carroll is also a trustee of the Boston Public Library and a member of the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life at Brandeis University.
He lives in Boston with his wife, the novelist Alexandra Marshall, and their two grown children.
Praise for Secret Father
"Carroll writes with rich, lyrical ease . . . His characters are richly drawn, and the pieces of his impeccably paced story fit together with the cool precision of a Mercedes-Benz. He plays the cards of his plot perfectly, each new element a revelation, leaving the reader hungrily turning the pages until the riveting story is told and the lesson is learned, that real love is indeed a harsh and dreadful thing. A few electrifying days prove enough to transform the lives of these fascinating characters and the world forever." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"James Carroll continues his lifelong meditation on fathers and sons with this powerful political adventure that is also an indelible exploration of erotic love." Frederick Busch
"[A] somber and evocative look at some of the most frightening times in one of the most frightening places in the Cold War . . . [A] fine period thriller." Kirkus Reviews
"A Cold War coming-of-age tale that captures both the particular tensions of the era and the universal yearnings of the young . . . Carroll, telling the story in flashback through alternating narrators, ratchets the tension nicely while vividly evoking the Cold War atmosphere and effectively contrasting the teens' naïveté with the East Germans' realpolitik." Booklist
Praise for Constantine's Sword
"Carroll's book is a monumental undertaking, as admirable as it is ambitious . . . Informative and argued with intelligence, passion, and conviction, Constantine's Sword is a book for everyone . . . Magisterial and searching." Christian Science Monitor
"Fascinating, brave, and sometimes infuriating." Time
Praise for An American Requiem
"I cannot recall being more touched by a book about a real family since John Gunther's Death Be Not Proud." Washington Post
"A book of the heart . . . perhaps the most moving drama of fathers and sons that I have ever read." Washington Post Book World
"A personal and political memoir in a class by itself. Rich in ideas and historical detail, a personal story that makes you think about politics, parents, children, and God." USA Weekend
Toward a New Catholic Church
(Houghton Mifflin, 2002)
Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews
(Houghton Mifflin, 2001)
An American Requiem
(Houghton Mifflin, 1996)
The City Below
(Houghton Mifflin, 1994)
(Houghton Mifflin, 1991)
Supply of Heroes
Prince of Peace
(Little, Brown, 1984)
(Little, Brown, 1982)
(Little, Brown, 1980)
(Little, Brown, 1978)
(Little, Brown, 1976)