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Literary Cocktail Hour with Jonathan Evison

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In the July 1845 issue of the Democratic Review, an editorial urged “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” It’s believed to be the first time the expression “manifest destiny,” a staple of high school history papers for over a century, ever appeared in print.

The phrase doesn’t show up as such in Jonathan Evison’s epic seventh novel, Small World, but its presence—and its role within American immigrants’ and Native Americans’ destinies, spread across three centuries—is woven into every page. Small World, opens with a train accident and reveals the connections among a host of people across race, class, history, and the country in this historical epic with a Dickensian flair. In exploring the passengers’ lives and those of their ancestors more than a century before, Small World chronicles 170 years of American nation-building from numerous points of view across place and time.

Though politics aren’t explicit in the novel, it’s plainly a response to an era that’s created dividing lines across the country. Without being simplistic or wearing rose-colored glasses, Evison suggests a fresh way of recognizing our relationships without melting-pot clichés. And it hits home as it probes at our country’s injustices, big and small, straight through to its deeply satisfying final words.

Production Date: 
Friday, February 11, 2022 - 05:00

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