One-Minute Book Reviews

September 30, 2010

Writing About War Is Hell: Megan Stack’s Memoir, ‘Every Man in This Village Is a Liar’

A foreign correspondent looks back on her work in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones

Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War. By Megan K. Stack. Doubleday, 255 pp., $26.95.

By Janice Harayda

Megan Stack wears her emotions on her flak jacket. She was twenty-five years old when, a few weeks after the Twin Towers fell, the Los Angeles Times sent her to Afghanistan to cover the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In this overwrought memoir she tries, as she puts it, to pull “poetry from war.”

At first exhilarated by her posting to Afghanistan, she grew disillusioned by the brutality and corruption she saw over the next six years as she traveled to strategic outposts in what the Bush administration called “the war on terror” – Iraq, Yemen, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. She maps her disenchantment along with her destinations in Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, a memoir in the form of a series of linked narrative essays about the cataclysms she observed.

Stack writes in a florid style far removed from that of great war correspondents like Ernie Pyle and George Orwell, whose unembellished prose threw the horrors of combat into high relief. And her prose is much more self-conscious than that of veteran contemporary journalists like Martha Raddatz of ABC News, whose The Long Road Home is one of the best books on the human cost of war in Iraq.  Stack slips into Libya and finds Moammar Qaddafi’s dictatorship a place where a doctor “muttered nervously,” a government agent “laughed nastily,” and “Sun glinted evilly on the sea.” The angrier she gets, the more overheated her writing becomes. She is seething with rage by the time she sees old and sick people abandoned by fleeing kin during Israel’s heavy bombing of Lebanon, where the terrorist group Hezbollah was based, in 2006:

“I hate the Lebanese families for leaving them here. I hate Hezbollah for not evacuating them, for ensuring civilian deaths that will bolster their cause. I hate Israel for wasting this place on the heads of the feeble. I hate all of us for participating in this great fiction of the war on terror, for pretending there is a framework, a purpose, for this torment.”

Like much else in this book, that rant tells you more about Stack than about the conflict she seeks to describe. And what it tells you is muddled: It conflates the post-9/11 “war on terror” with the older hostilities among Israel and its neighbors.

When she looks outward instead of inward, Stack can offer sharp portraits of her subjects, including countries Americans regard as their allies. In Egypt she is tear-gassed as president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s “modern-day pharaoh,” rigs an election by using riot police to keep supporters of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood party away from the polls. Her report on the savage crackdown on voters lends credibility to words of a human-rights official who told her “that Egypt, of all the Arab states, came closest” to having a gulag.

The account of election fraud in Egypt also reveals her eye for subtle details about how violence affects ordinary lives. Stack notes that as voters were being tear-gassed by Mubarak’s legions, protesters shredded rags and pressed them to their mouths. “Egyptian hospitality unflagged,” she writes,” “they kept offering me their rags because I was a foreigner.”

Best line: “McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks make women stand in separate lines [in Saudi Arabia]. Hotels like the InterContinental and Sheraton won’t rent a woman a room without a letter from a company vouching for her ability to pay; women checking into hotels alone are regarded as prostitutes.”

Worst line: No. 1: “I learned to count the fighter jets that passed overhead in my sleep.” How could she count them if she was sleeping? No. 2: “Violence is a reprint of itself, an endless copy. I mean to say that by itself, violence is not the point. A bomb, a battle, a bullet is just a hole torn in the fabric of the day.” Tell it to someone who took a bullet. No. 3. “Sunlight glinted evilly …” Every Man in This Village Is a Liar brims with cloying phrases like that one.

Consider reading instead of or in addition to this book: The Long Road Home, a fine account by by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz of the 2004 assault on American soldiers in Sadr City Iraq, and its aftermath.

Published: June 2010

Caveat lector: This review of Every Man In This Village Is a Liar was based on an advance reader’s copy. Some material in the finished book may differ. This post shows the cover of the U.K. edition of the book.

About the author: Stack reports from Beijing for the Los Angeles Times. She was a finalist, with others in the paper’s Baghdad bureau, for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2010 Janice Harayda.

July 2, 2010

Dana Reinhardt’s Young Adult Novel, ‘The Things a Brother Knows’ – Mature Subjects, Third-Grade Reading Level

Filed under: Children's Books,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:53 pm
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A 17-year-old wonders why his older brother acts strangely after serving with the Marines in a combat zone

The Things a Brother Knows. By Dana Reinhardt. Wendy Lamb/Random House Children’s Books, 256 pp., $16.99. Publisher’s suggested ages: 14 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, the Canadian novelist Joan Clark argued that North American publishers should drop the “young adult” label and replace it, as their British counterparts have, with two new categories: “under 12” (to be shelved in the children’s section of bookstores) and “over 12” (to shelved in the adult section). Clark makes a strong case that the confusing YA classification can keep both adults and children away from books they might like.

You could hardly find a better example of the problems with the genre than The Things a Brother Knows. This novel deals with a complex topic: A 17-year-old named Levi struggles to make sense of the troubling behavior a brother who, after serving with the Marines, shows PTSD-like symptoms that threaten to estrange the siblings. Dana Reinhardt gives this subject a relatively mature treatment that involves jokes about porn and masturbation, occasional strong language, and serious moral and psychological questions: What do we owe veterans? What price do families pay for their members’ military service? And is it OK to do bad things such as hacking into a brother’s computer because you want to help him?

For all this, Reinhardt writes at a third-grade reading level, according the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics that come with the Microsoft Word spell-checker. And her earnest prose, if smooth as the surface of an iPod, is too dumbed-down for many of the age-14-and-up readers to whom its publisher recommends it, who may have read the stylistically more challenging Harry Potter and J.R.R. Tolkien tales years ago. The book might have more appeal for 11- and 12-year-olds, but its drab cover won’t help its cause with preteens who have sped through adventure stories like those in Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series.

Like no small number of young adult novels, The Things a Brother Knows makes you wonder: Who is this book for? Reinhardt says in a letter to readers that Levi, on his quest to understand his brother, “goes in a boy and comes out a man.” If that’s true of her main character, it’s not true her novel as a whole, which is suspended between boyhood and manhood, a case of arrested literary development.

Best line: “We’d been to Israel twice already, in the psychotic heat of summer.”

Worst line: No. 1: “He doesn’t leave his fucking room, Mr. Hopper.” No. 2: “I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in the world uglier than the sight of your own father’s pubic hair.” No. 3: “I meant that ‘little private Levi time’ thing as a euphemism. Masturbating. Get it?”

Published: September 2010

Editor: Wendy Lamb, who edited the 2010 Newbery Medal winner, Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me.

Caveat lector: This book was based on an advance reader’s copy. Some material in the finished book, including the cover, may differ.

Furthermore: Jacqueline Woodson’s Peace, Locomotion also deals with the effect on a family of a son who returns from a war with symptoms resembling those of PTSD.

You may also want to read: Joan Clark’s essay on the problems with the young-adult label.

You can also follow Jan Harayda on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 30, 2010

A Review of Dana Reinhardt’s Young-Adult Novel, ‘The Things a Brother Knows,’ From the Editor of the 2010 Newbery Medalist — Coming Soon

Filed under: Children's Books,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:07 pm
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Rebecca Stead won the 2010 Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me, edited by Wendy Lamb, who has her own imprint at Random House. In September Lamb will publish Dana Reinhardt’s The Things a Brother Knows, a young-adult novel about a 17-year-old boy whose older brother acts oddly after returning from deployment with the Marines in a combat zone. Reinhardt says he wrote the book after hearing mothers talk about sons who “came home different” from war. That made him think about the son who didn’t go: “the one who maybe thought that what his brother had chosen to do was a big mistake.” A review of The Things A Brother Knows will appear soon on this site, which reviews children’s books on Saturdays. Jacqueline Woodson dealt with a similar topic in her novel for preteens, Peace, Locomotion, the story of a boy whose foster brother returns from war missing a leg.

October 28, 2009

John Keegan’s ‘The American Civil War’ — Was the Refusal to Allow the Confederate States to Secede the First Overt Act of American Imperialism?

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:35 am
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I admire the work of John Keegan, perhaps the finest living military historian, and have mentioned his Winston Churchill (Viking, 2002) and his foreword to a recent edition of John Buchan’s classic spy thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps (Penguin, 2008). But I may not be able to review his new The American Civil War: A Military History, a book likely to rank high on many holiday wish lists.

So I’d like to quote from the most interesting review I’ve read of the book, written the historian Robert Stewart for the Spectator, and encourage you to read the rest if you’re debating whether to add it to your own list:

“Whether the refusal to allow the Confederate states the right to self-determination, flying as it did in the face of the Declaration of Independence, was the first overt act of American imperialism is a question that goes largely undiscussed. John Keegan does not raise it. For him, unlike World War I, which was ‘cruel and unnecessary,’ the American Civil War was cruel and necessary. (What constitutes an uncruel war is not explained.) Necessary both sides deemed it. At the outset volunteers came forward in such numbers that equipping them and finding capable officers to lead them proved nearly beyond both the Union and the Confederacy. Cruel it certainly was, one of the bloodiest wars in modern history, though two-thirds of its casualties succumbed, not to gunfire, but to disease (much of it caused by bad cooking). …

“Keegan tells an old story in ample, uncomplicated prose and the scale of the book is well judged, sufficient to allow for richness of detail and depth of analysis without overhwhelming the reader. Occasionally words seem to get the better of him. Does it make sense to say that ‘the purpose’ of the war was ‘to inflict suffering on the American imagination,’ that ‘the whole point of the war was to hold mothers, fathers, sisters, and wives in a state of tortured apprehension’? Footnotes are so spasmodic that the criteria for citing sources are impossible to discern. Keegan has to be taken for the most part, on trust. But his command of the war’s geography, his thorough understanding of military organization and his deep humanity, all nourished by a lifetime’s immersion in military history, imbue his account with the authority that we have come to expect from him.”

You can read an excerpt from The American Civil War on the Knopf site.

October 16, 2009

PTSD in a Book for 9-Year-Olds? Tomorrow — Two-Time Newbery Medal Finalist Jacqueline Woodson Returns With ‘Peace, Locomotion’

The themes in children’s books have been getting grittier for years, and the trend continues with Peace, Locomotion, the latest book by two-time Newbery Medal finalist Jacqueline Woodson. This novel for 9-to-12-year olds deals in part with a soldier who comes home from a war missing a leg and suffering from signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 16, 2009

Ishmael Beah’s ‘A Long Way Gone’ Is ‘A Long Way From Truth,’ Sierra Leonean Magazine Says in a Report That Raises ‘Serious Doubts’ About Its Story

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:58 pm
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Anyone who still believes that Ishmael Beah was boy soldier may have doubts after reading the first comprehensive investigation by a Sierra Leonean journalist of the story told in A Long Way Gone, a book billed by its publisher as “a memoir” of Beah’s years as a fighter in his government’s army. Muctaru Wurie investigated Beah’s claims for a report published in the quarterly Sierra Eye and elsewhere. He concluded that A Long Way Gone is “a long way from truth.”

Wurie based his report on an analysis of the book and on interviews with experts on the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, including representatives of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, founded to bring “reconciliation and healing” to victims of the conflict. Beah says he was one of those victims and, based on that claim, and has had a lucrative writing and speaking career in the United States and elsewhere.

Sierra Eye has published a long list of mistakes and other disturbing flaws in A Long Way Gone that have created “serious doubts” among Sierra Leoneans about the book and add to and deepen the questions raised in the Australian by Shelley Gare, David Nason and Peter Wilson. In the West African magazine, Wurie says that Beah describes some events that “never happened.” A list of links to other articles that have challenged or raised questions related to Beah’s claims appears at the end of this post.

Wurie tried to speak with Beah or a representative of his publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, but hit the stone wall faced by Graham Rayman of the Village Voice and others when he sought answers to questions about the book.

The most serious problems found by Wurie include:

Ishmael Beah says that when he was in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in May 1997: “Someone came on the radio and announced himself as the new president of Sierra Leone. His name, he said, was Johnny Paul Koroma, and he was the leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council …”

Muctaru Wurie says in Sierra Eye: “ … everyone who was here at that time knew that what was described as the most embarrassing coup broadcast of all time was delivered by the late Corporal [Tamba] Gborie, who was later convicted of treason and shot by firing squad.”

Lansana Gberie, a Sierra Leonean scholar and journalist who has written regularly for Africa Week other publications, confirms that Gborie did the broadcast in his book A Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone (Indiana Universiy Press, 2005).

Ishmael Beah says that after he arrived at a UNICEF camp for former child soldiers in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 1996, a fight broke out between those who had fought for the government and for rebels of Revolutionary United Front (RUF): “Six people were killed: two on our side and four on the rebel side; and several were wounded, including two of the men who had brought us [to the camp]. The military ambulances took off, wailing into the still newborn night with the dead and wounded.”

Muctaru Wurie says in Sierra Eye: “This never happened. I checked newspaper clippings at the Sierra Leone section library at the renowned Fourah Bay College and spoke to many journalists and NGO officials at the time, they all said they had no doubts such an incident never occurred.

“The fact that Ishmael wilfully omitted the name or location of the said centre in Freetown raised further doubts about an event no one here seems to recall.”

Wurie’s contention that the camp fight “never happened” meshes with a UNICEF  statement to the Village Voice that it couldn’t confirm that the fight occurred.

Ishmael Beah says: “The first time I was touched by war I was twelve. It was in January of 1993.”

Alhaji Samura, who was a transcriber for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is quoted as saying in Sierra Eye: “I have read reviews of A Long Way Gone and from what I can see, the book appears to be fictional. I can’t recall a time when someone gave a testimony that they saw the national army recruiting children openly in a town to fight along with them before 1997.”

Ishmael Beah says: “One evening, a neighbor who lived a few doors down from my uncle’s house was listening to a pirate radio station that accused the new government of crimes against civilians. A few minutes later, a truck full of soldiers stopped in front of the man’s house, dragged him, his wife, and his two older sons outside, shot them, and kicked their bodies into the nearby gutter.”

Muctaru Wurie says in Sierra Eye that the incident “never happened”:

“The incident that actually happened (but not mentioned in Ishmael’s book) and caught the attention of the public and international media was the one concerning the woman at Kissy who was listening to FM 98.1 and was later confronted by a soldier whom she defiantly challenged before she was shot. It was the talk of the town and several people flocked to see the dead woman lay on the ground bleeding profusely.

“An incident whereby a whole family was massacred would have raised more public notice –if it did happen. To ascertain this, I called former minister of information, Dr Julius Spencer who was the then head of FM 98.1. He told me clearly that there was not a time he recalled anything like that happened. Spencer, who also happens to be one of the leading literature scholars in the country, said though he has not read Ishmael’s book, the reviews he read makes him doubt if Ishmael depicted the truth in his work.”

Ishmael Beah says that when he left Sierra Leone for Guinea after being removed from the fighting: “The immigration officers were asking for three hundred leones, almost two months’ pay, to put a departure stamp on passports.”

Muctaru Wurie says in Sierra Eye: “The fact is that the average monthly salary was far above that. Le 300 could only get you a pint of soft drink by the time. In fact, a US dollar is exchanged for around Le 800.”

Wurie said he wanted to ask Beah or his publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, how “someone who claims to be a native of the country, and also participated in the war, could have gotten it so wrong on so many aspects.” But he hit a stone wall at the firm that issued the book.

“I called twice and mailed them thrice but I only got a promise that they will get back to me which they never did,” he writes. “In fact, I’m still waiting today.”

You may also want to read these articles that raise questions about A Long Way Gone:

“Boy Soldier of Fortune,” the Village Voice, March 18, 2008.

“Ishmael Beah Foundation Didn’t File Tax Returns for 3 Years, IRS Says,”  One-Minute Book Reviews, April 8, 2012.

“UNICEF Can’t Confirm Beah’s Camp Brawl Claim,” the Village Voice, March 19, 2008.

“An Open Letter to Ishmael Beah About Questions Recently Raised About His Memoir, ‘A Long Way Gone,’ by Reporters for the Australian,” One-Minute Book Reviews, Jan. 24, 2o08.

Ishmael Beah Says He Was Shot ‘Three Times in My Left Foot’ But Suffered No Serious Damage,” One-Minute Book Reviews, Feb. 12, 2008.

“More Questions About Ishmael Beah’s ‘A Long Way Gone,” One-Minute Book Reviews, Jan. 29, 2008.

“Ishmael Beah Ducks Question About Whether He Used Composite Characters or Passed Off Others’ Experiences as His Own,” One-Minute Book Reviews, Apr. 18, 2008.

“Wikipedia Claims Laura Simms Is Ishmael Beah’s ‘Foster Mother,’ Not His ‘Adoptive Mother,’ As He Claims,” One-Minute Book Reviews, March 11, 2008.

“Ishmael Beah’s Wikipedia Entry – a Point-by-Point Response for Reporters, Producers and Book Groups and Others Seeking Facts About the Author of ‘A Long Way Gone,’” One-Minute Book Reviews, Feb. 14, 2008.

“Ex-child soldier’s literary best seller is ‘factually flawed,’” The Observer (UK), Jan. 20, 2008.

“School Report Shoots Holes in Child Soldier’s Bloody Tale,” the Sunday Times (London), Feb. 3, 2008.

“Australian Newspaper Questions Ishmael Beah’s Memory,” GalleyCat, Jan. 21, 2008.

“The OTHER Book About Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone,” One-Minute Book Reviews, Feb. 4, 2008.

“Ishmael Beah’s Parents May Be Alive and ‘No One Knows Where They Are,’ Wikipedia Says — Entry Contradicts Author’s Statements in the New York Times and Elsewhere,” One-Minute Book Reviews, March 10, 2008.

“Does the Cover of ‘A Long Way’ Gone Show a Soldier in Niger or Another African Country Instead of Sierra Leone? Why Isn’t the Location Identified?,” One-Minute Book Reviews, Feb. 27, 2008.

“Out of the Mouth of a Babe Soldier” (Quotes from Ishmael Beah’s book and interviews that appear contradictory), One-Minute Book Reviews, Feb. 5, 2008.

Whitewash on ABC’s ‘Nightline’ — Cynthia McFadden Wimps Out in Interviewing Ishmael Beah About the Truthfulness of his ‘A Long Way Gone,’” One-Minute Book Reviews, Aug. 7, 2008.

“Ishmael Beah May Have Had ‘Nagging Doubts’ About His Story, Wikipedia Reports — A World Exclusive for the Online Encyclopedia? Or Was It Sucker-Punched?” One-Minute Book Reviews, March 2, 2008.

“New Paperback Edition Doesn’t Ease Concerns About ‘A Long Way Gone’ — Questions Reporters, Producers and You, the Reader Should Ask Ishmael Beah,” One-Minute Book Reviews, Aug. 3, 2008.

“Chasing Ishmael – Truth, Racism, the US Media and Blockbuster Publishing,” The Sydney Papers, Autumn 2008.

The links to the articles below in the Australian have expired. Many of the points they make are covered in the articles listed above:

“Beah’s Credibility a Long Way Gone,” the Australian, Feb. 2, 2008.

“Ishmael Beah’s Flaws Poetic License,” the Australian, Jan. 21, 2008.

“Web of Facts Unravel Child Soldier’s Tale,” the Australian, January 21, 2008.

“Child Soldier Questions Beah’s Tale,” the Australian, January 25, 2008.

“US Critics ‘Wanted to Believe’ Child Soldier’s Tale,” the Australian, Jan. 30, 2008.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and has written for many American newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. She is a former vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle who lives in New Jersey.

www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 19, 2009

Abu Ghraib Prisoners Tortured With ‘Yoko Ono Singing’ – Jane Mayer’s ‘The Dark Side’

Filed under: Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:48 am
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New in paperback: Jane Mayer’s acclaimed The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (Anchor, 432 pp., $15.95). In this 2008 National Book Award finalist, Mayer describes the American “noise torture” of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which involved subjecting the detainees to intolerable sounds:

“Evidently, the interrogators brought a certain twisted humor to their DJ duties, searching for sounds they believed would be particularly insufferable.” Among their choices: “Yoko Ono singing.”

You can read this quote in its original context by using a “search inside the book” tool like this one any online bookseller’s site that has the feature.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

May 8, 2009

May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe Day in London — When Searchlights Flashed a ‘V’ for Victory in Morse Code Across the Sky

Filed under: History,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:36 am
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“At the stroke of midnight, ships in Southampton docks sounded their horns and a searchlight flashed out the letter ‘V,’ for ‘victory,’ in Morse code across the sky.”

A national outpouring of joy erupted in England on May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe Day. Historian David Stafford describes the scene in London after the German surrender in his Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II (Little, Brown, 2007), an account of the final weeks of World War II and its immediate aftermath in Europe:

“There were celebrations, of course. Across Britain they began as soon as news of the surrender leaked out. Flags appeared in windows, shops shut down, and people poured onto the streets. At the stroke of midnight, ships in Southampton docks sounded their horns and a searchlight flashed out the letter ‘V,’ for ‘victory,’ in Morse code across the sky. By midday, huge crowds had gathered in central London, and St. Paul’s Cathedral and other churches were packed with worshippers. At three o’clock, Churchill broadcast to the nation and the Empire from his study at 10 Downing Street, declaring the end of the war and finishing with the exhortation: ‘Advance Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!’ Then, standing on the front seat of an open car and giving the victory sign, he was driven slowly through a dense and cheering crowd to the Houses of Parliament, where he repeated his statement to the Commons. When it was over, the crowd outside who heard it over loudspeakers sang the national anthem.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

April 28, 2009

Emily Dickinson, War Poet (Quote of the Day / From Drew Gilpin Faust’s Pulitzer Prize Finalist, ‘This Republic of Suffering’)

Filed under: Poetry,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:53 am
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How did Americans deal with the unprecedented scale of death in the Civil War? Many grappled with the carnage partly by writing about it — in poems, letters, memoirs, sermons, diaries, and more — given a lucid analysis by Drew Gilpin Faust in This Republic of Suffering, a finalist for the most recent National Book Award www.nationalbook.org/nba2008.html and Pulitzer Prize for history www.pulitzer.org/citation/2009-History.

Gilpin Faust writes about Emily Dickinson in this excerpt from a much longer section about Dickinson’s work and that of other writers of the era, including Ambrose Bierce and Herman Melville:

“Emily Dickson is renowned as a poet preoccupied with death. Yet curiously any relationship between her work and the Civil War was long rejected by most literary critics, even though she wrote almost half her oeuvre, at a rate of four poems a week, during those years. Dickinson has been portrayed as a recluse, closeted from the real world and its tribulations. But her work is filled with the language of battle – the very vocabulary of war that she would have encountered in the four newspapers regularly delivered to the Dickinson household. Campaigns, cannons, rifle balls, bullets, artillery, soldiers, ammunition, flags, bayonets, cavalry, drums, and trumpets are recurrent images in her poetry.”

Gilpin Faust adds:

“Like so many reflective Americas of her time, she grappled with the contractions of spirit and matter and with their implications for heaven and for God. Death seemed ‘a Dialogue between the Spirit and the Dust,’ an argument left painfully unresolved. Dickinson wondered where she might find heaven (‘I’m knocking everywhere’) and what an afterlife might be (‘Is Heaven a place—a Sky—a Tree?’) …..

“Ironically, it was death, not life, that seemed eternal, for it ‘perishes—to live anew … Annihilation—plated fresh / With Immortality.’ No territorial justifications, no military or political purposes balance this loss; victory cannot compensate; it ‘comes late’ to those already dead, whose ‘freezing lips’ are ‘too rapt with frost / to take it.’ Dickinson permits herself no relief or escape into either easy transcendence or sentimentality.”

You might also want to read the Oct. 4, 2007, post, “Do Emily Dickinson’s Poems ‘Make a Virtue Out of Collapsing’?” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/04/.

© 2009 Janice Harayda

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 10, 2009

Winston Groom’s ‘Vicksburg, 1863′ — The Creator of Forrest Gump Reconsiders a Pivotal Moment in the Civil War

Filed under: History,News,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:08 am
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Just back from a great talk by Winston Groom at a signing for his new nonfiction book, Vicksburg, 1863 (Knopf, 496 pp., $30). I didn’t take notes because a friend and I stopped by on our way to a Maundy Thursday service and planned to listen for just a few minutes. But the talk was so captivating we stayed for all of it and just made it to the church on time.

A few points stood out: Gettysburg is better known than Vicksburg and often viewed as more important to the Civil War. But by dint of its strategic location on the Mississippi, Vicksburg had more geographic value. Two years of bloodshed might have been avoided if the South had offered the North terms for ending the war as catastrophe loomed. After its besieged forces surrendered on July 4, 1863, the day after Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, Vicksburg didn’t celebrate the Fourth of July for a century.

Groom’s talk was full of lively details about how the residents of the Vicksburg tried to stay alive while trapped. Some ate mule meat or eluded artillery fire by digging caves – later intentionally destroyed — that might held fascinating clues to how people survived the devastation of 1863.

If you’d like to know more, an excerpt from the book appears on the Knopf site. The publisher also has posted a quote from a review by John Sledge, the books editor of the Mobile Press-Register, who “There have been many books about Vicksburg, but none better than this.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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