I'm tempted to send the author a thank you card for expressing what I've always felt about Scarlet O'Hara, namely, that the whinny brat had NO idea whI'm tempted to send the author a thank you card for expressing what I've always felt about Scarlet O'Hara, namely, that the whinny brat had NO idea what real problems were, like the kind of problems her half sister has in this book, daughter of "mammy" and the plantation owner. I really liked the nicknames she assigns everyone (mostly for legal purposes, but it works), with a resonating subtext about the power for names.
The disjointed time frame almost works, a little more fleshing out of certain sequences would have helped, since it isn't always clear how the main character gets from point a to point b and how on earth she wound up at point c. Good portrayal of history - obviously very well researched. Excellent portrayal of a truly effed up family.
Biggest critique - the dialogue. Sometimes it was just too modern, as if the characters were already aware of the 20th century. Worst example - Rhett Butler actually says "Once you go black, you never go back." Oy....more
What I really love about this book are the descriptive words that really make you see what the Civil War was like for the regular soldiers, and for thWhat I really love about this book are the descriptive words that really make you see what the Civil War was like for the regular soldiers, and for the folk back on the farm, really getting across the idea of being dirt poor in that era, of what the clothes were like, the level of technology available, and the pockets of society that lived and died before during and after the war
“I was occupied with keeping my skirts off the filthy platform. It was littered with busted boxes and crates broken open with their labels gone. Food of every kind rotted on the ground: broken crocks of fruit and splintered jars of jam, cured hams crusted with flies, loaves of bread frosted with mold. It was provisions families had tried to send their solder sons, poorly packed and too long in the journey. The combination of smells cut my eyes. But worse smells were on the way.”
That paragraph really underscores the reality of the grim war before it had even started. ...more
Everyone in the battle gets a voice – the soldiers on both sides, the slaves, the doctors, the reporters, the civilian carriage drivers, the girls bacEveryone in the battle gets a voice – the soldiers on both sides, the slaves, the doctors, the reporters, the civilian carriage drivers, the girls back home, the musicians, the profiteers, the bereft – everyone gets to tell the reader what the Civil War was like for them.
Yes, this is a classic. Yes this is 19th century literature right up there at the top of the list - but couldn't Alcott have taken things further? TheYes, this is a classic. Yes this is 19th century literature right up there at the top of the list - but couldn't Alcott have taken things further? The story is incredibly whitewashed to fit to 19th century proprieties, which is sad, considering transcendentalists were supposed to be above that kind of thing. There's just something about the town of Concord that makes people weird. ...more
An amazing biography. Think you know the story of the Lincoln's assassination? Think again. The astounding back story of everyone involved, the way evAn amazing biography. Think you know the story of the Lincoln's assassination? Think again. The astounding back story of everyone involved, the way everyone is twisted together with a surprising amount of connections, the way some things made the murder seem inevitable, and other parts show how events hung by a thread - the whole story reads like fiction, and yet its all true.
My only critique is the author doesn't show her work - the facts are all there, obviously painstakingly researched, but where they came from is not well shown.
If you have any interested in the Civil War or Abraham Lincoln, I recommend this book! ...more
One of the book’s conclusions is that whipping was not used as much as previously thought, stating that there were only “an average of 0.7 whippings p One of the book’s conclusions is that whipping was not used as much as previously thought, stating that there were only “an average of 0.7 whippings per hand per year.”
Mr. Fogel and Mr. Engermen seemed to have completely missed the point that it is physically impossible to be whipped 0.7 of a time. ...more
Goodheart hits everything note perfect for what I look for in a good book: did his research, shows all his work, gets the facts right, writes really, Goodheart hits everything note perfect for what I look for in a good book: did his research, shows all his work, gets the facts right, writes really, really well, and tells a damn good story, bringing the time period to ringing, vibrant, bloody, tragic, victorious, diastorous LIFE.
If I ever meet Adam Goodheart I swear I'm going to kiss him.
Note: this turned into not so much a review, but rather a recap with heavy commentary.
If there is an annual award for Most Awkward Seder (and there sh Note: this turned into not so much a review, but rather a recap with heavy commentary.
If there is an annual award for Most Awkward Seder (and there should be, considering how tense family holidays can get) then the 1865 award most definitely went to the Josephson family of Virginia.
Elka Weber writes about a peculiar moment in time that illustrates 1.) the diversity of this nation, 2.) the unifying aspects of common ground, and 3.) the extremes of cognitive dissonance.
Based on a true story, the book begins with the narrator, ten year old Jacob, sitting on the porch and glumly eating a piece of matzoh as his mother, sister, and the family housekeeper prepare the meal. (And the fact he doesn’t lift a finger to help in the kitchen is an entirely different subject.)
So he morosely nibbles at the unleavened bread and reflects that he will never have the chance to ride off into battle and win glorious victory. Because when you’re ten, everything that takes place outside your own sphere sounds like a grand adventure, and of course you will be the hero of the war and come home loaded with medals and prizes and only the most heroic looking of non-fatal battle wounds. And this is why there will always be war – because there will always be starry eyed young kids signing up for them. Domage.
So, the “war of northern aggression” is over, General Lee has just surrendered, and the “occupiers”, i.e. Yankee soldiers, are patrolling everywhere. (Side note: 1946 was not the first time someone shouted “Yankee go home”.) Meanwhile, life goes on, and the Josephson family prepares for Passover.
In easy and short and natural-to-the-story prose, Weber has the narrator describe the preparation process for Passover, the importance of the unleavened bread, the purpose of the Haggadah, and the underlining tension of celebrating the holiday while wondering what losing the war will mean for the South in real and practical terms.
Its beautifully done – all of the history of the holiday, the customs that have evolved over the centuries, the personal traditions, the realness of his grandfather cradling a large leather bound book filled with pages written with reverence and splashed with long-ago wine stains, with everyone in the family and in town buzzing about current events – all told from the view point of a child. It’s very much any holiday recalled by any child taking place during a critical moment in history.
And all done in about two paragraphs and two illustrations. Wunderbar.
Anyway, as Jacob reflects on all this, sitting on the porch, munching on some matzoh, and who should appear?
“A real live Yankee, just walking up the street. The war might be over, but we were still plenty angry. I thought maybe I should take the barrel of rainwater at the side of the house and soak him.”
As Jacob considers this, the Yankee causally comes up the porch and wishes him a good Passover and asks for some matzoh.
Jacob, stunned, scrambles to his feet and runs into the house to shout to his mother that there is a Yankee Jew outside! I laughed, but I have to admit that I was just as stunned when I picked up this book that there were Southern Jews. Having assumptions challenged can be shocking, yes.
Jacob’s mother handles all this quite well, remembering the ancient rules of guest right (nowadays sadly almost forgotten by all three faiths that sprang from Abraham), and politely invites him to dinner.
Nettie the housemaid (legal status before the war unknown but very possible she didn’t earn wages) almost busts a gut at the fact she is serving dinner to a Yankee who is helping a southern white family celebrate the end of a period of a slavery. She, at least, appreciates the irony of it all.
The soldier, Corporal Levy, is introduced to Jacob’s father and grandfather and the three men gamely try to find something to talk about that doesn’t have to do with the war.
“And silence reigned in Heaven for thirty minutes” - Revelations 8:1
They eventually find a neutral topic in immigration history, Levy telling how his people came to Philadelphia in the 1790’s (and that particular wave of Jewish immigration certainly deserves its own book) while Jacob’s grandfather explains he came from Bavaria but the rest of his family was born here.
Which brought home for me the fact that while the grandfather would have had the stereotypical Ashkenazi -Yiddish-German accent, the rest of his family would have had Virginian accents. Its mind warping to get my head around the idea of the Kadeish being recited with a southern drawl.
So, the family and guest sit down to dinner and everything goes fine until the Four Questions portion of the evening and they start the time honored tradition of debating What-Does-Passover-Mean. The father goes on a rant, clearly an old and much practiced one, practically banging his shoe on the table, that the story of Exodus is about rebelling against an evil government. Their poor dinner guest, sweat forming at his brow, is all ‘yeah, and the slavery…’
The next illustration in the book shows Jacob’s sister Minna slowly munching on a piece of matzoh, eyes wide and glancing sideways as the text describes the silence at the dinner table now that the “s” word has been brought up. It’s the classic comedic situation of a group of people not talking while one person very slowly continues to do some task, eyes locked on the rest of motionless people. Done right, its comedy gold. And I was certainly in a fit of giggles here, although the irrationality of the father was making me roll my eyes.
The grandfather steps in and diffuses the situation by saying disagreements are traditional and that they should move along or they’ll never get to eat. He then points out the part about the solders drowning in the Red Sea, reminding everyone, guest and family, that you are supposed to consider what it feels like to be a member of the other side. Go zayde! Score one for Team Tolerance.
The meal rolls on, a deliciously described mix of Yiddish and Southern foods – beef with sweet potatoes, stewed apples with pecan pralines, etc. Jacob finds the matzoh hidden by Corporal Levy and dwells on what he’ll ask for ransom, knowing he can get something a lot better than the usual toys this section of the holiday usually brings. He asks for the soldier’s sword, but his mother, echoing mothers throughout space and time, says firmly: ‘no weapons in the house,’ so he gets the soldier’s hat, always a good prize.
The next morning the family sends the soldier back to his unit laden down with fresh food and then all take a moment to look at each other and comment, ‘well, that was unexpected.’
A year of tough times goes by, and the next Passover rolls around, bringing with it a letter from the former corporal, along with gifts of matzoh, wine and a silver goblet engraved with a quote about liberty. Levy sends his thanks, and also lets Jacob know that when his commanding officer asked about the missing hat, he claims it was taken as a prize by a “brave rebel.”
And the family prepares for Passover, ready to leave the war behind.
Next we have two post scripts from the author.
The first is about the real Corporal Levy and some facts I found surprising about Jews in the Civil War. Weber states that 1/3 of all Jewish adult males then in America, North and South, fought in the Civil War. Wow. It comes to about 10,000 soldiers total – small by today’s standards – but when looked at in context, its an impressive number. Levy came from a large family, returning to Philadelphia after the war to raise a family of his own, telling them often the story of the time he celebrated a Southern Seder, and the saber that he did not give to Jacob is owned today by his great-great granddaughter, who let the author take a picture of it for the book. Weber also mentions that after the war many Jews in the North made a point to raise and ship supplies specifically for holidays such as Passover and sent them to their relatives-by-religion in the impoverished South. A truly thoughtful gesture of reconciliation.
The second postscript is about the holiday of Passover itself. Weber goes into a little more detail about how the holiday is celebrated, and the importance of finding things to unify rather than divide people, but the jewel of the section is a photo of a 19th century American Haggadah. The book is open to somewhere in the middle, English text and Hebrew script side by side, and, spread across the prayers, is a discoloration, dark brown on light brown, showing where someone let a large splash of wine drop from his or her cup onto the page and then hastily tried to wipe it off, smearing it into the page, leaving behind a mark that shows future generations that the past is not a dry, dusty thing, but something vibrate and exciting.
A quick word now about cognitive dissonance. The Jewish faith makes a huge deal about Passover and how Slavery Was Bad. How would a family in the South talk about the importance of Exodus with a straight face while supporting a cause that wanted to keep slavery going? In the antebellum South, how could a family sit down to a Passover supper, reciting the prayers that celebrated the end of slavery, while being served by slaves? A quick amount of Googling shows that there were in fact slave owning Jews in pre-Civil War America, so obviously this did happen, but… did anyone at the table think, “well this is weird” ?
The ability of the human mind to hold two opposing views such as this is astounding. I’m pretty sure there’s a file room somewhere out there in the galaxy with records of all sapient species. I’m also sure that our file has: “Insane: Don’t Approach” stamped on it in big red letters. ...more