I’ve just finished reading these two literary works. One set in Civil War era America and the other in post-WW2. I didn’t set out to read two books on war but these authors are among my fav’s.
Varina by Charles Frazier
“Civilization balances always on a keen and precarious point, a showman spinning a fine Spode dinner plate on a long dowel slender as a stem of hay. A puff of breath, a moment’s lost attention, and it’s all gone, crashed to ruination, shards in the dirt. Then mankind retreats to the caves, leaving little behind but obelisks weathering to nubs like broken teeth, dissolving to beach sand.”
As a fan of Cold Mountain (which I reread before delving into Varina) I consumed Varina in 3 days. This is unusual for me as life inevitably gets in the way when there is a glimmer of free time for reading. Still, I love the way Frazier writes. Every word considered and weighted before being placed on the page. He is not a prolific writer having published only two books since Cold Mountain but if you enjoy history and are tempted to glimpse a little known (to me) woman’s part in the mechanization’s of the American Civil War then this is worth reading.
“With her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects a life of security as a Mississippi landowner. He instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the center of one of the darkest moments in American history—culpable regardless of her intentions. The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with “bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit.”
Warlight By Michael Ondaatje.
I always wait with interest for a new Ondaatje novel. The English Patient was a work that really resonated with me as a lover of history, war, archaeology. Warlight, not so much. Beautiful prose. Deft handling of what defines a family, a window into another aspect of WW2 and its aftermath, but somehow the intrigue of the ‘disappearing parents’ didn’t quite ring true, for me at least. And even though I love dogs. All dogs. There was a point at which the ‘greyhounds’ produced an ‘enough already’. Still I will read it again and marvel at Ondaaje’s gift of the written word.
Blurb: “In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth.”