“Frazier works on an epic scale, but his genius is in the details–he has a scholar’s command of the physical realities of early America and a novelist’s gift for bringing them to life.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
The new novel by the award winning author of Cold Mountain takes us back to the American Civil War. This is the fictionalized story of the life of Varina Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The story is told through the eyes of two people, Varina Davis and Jimmy, a light skinned black boy who one day is found by Varina running through the streets, alone and crying. He appears to have no one so Varina takes him in and raises him almost as one of her own.
The book begins with Jimmy as a grown man searching out Varina so he could remember his past, y filing in the blanks he can’t remember from his childhood. They were separated from each other at the end of the war as Varina is trying to escape to Cuba with her family to avoid the Northern armies searching for her husband, and as he was still quite young at the time, there is much he has forgotten.
The story is told in flashback and we get a very good look at Varina’s life, her ups and downs, and the sad fate of many of her offspring who will die very young.
Jefferson Davis was much older than Varina, and it is interesting to see how she coped with the Davis family that she married into, until the moment comes when she can establish herself as her own person. The novel also shows Varina as dealing with blacks in a very modern manner, not as a strict slaveholder.
The parts that Jimmy remembers from his childhood, and the rest that is told to him by Varina paint a picture of plantation life more like Gone With the Wind than 20 years a slave. Maybe the truth of her story falls somewhere in between.
While not as good as Cold Mountain, it is good for the author to go back to the civil war, an era he seems to know so well. Recommended.
Added 23rd May 2018