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Archive: Other Books > Varina by Charles Frazier - 4 stars

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message 1: by Joy D (last edited Jul 14, 2018 07:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joy D | 4608 comments Varina by Charles Frazier - 4 stars

Historical fiction set initially in 1906 about the life of Varina Howell Davis, wife of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, as told to James Blake aka Jimmie Limber, an African American man she had rescued from a brutal beating when he was very young and has not seen in over forty years. He was taken into her household, included as a playmate with her children, and accompanied her family as they fled Richmond as fugitives on the way to Florida. James, now a teacher, locates Varina in Saratoga, New York, near the end of her life. She had moved to New York at age 60 to make her living as a writer. I looked up Jimmie Limber and he in fact existed and spent time living at the Davis home, as unlikely as that sounds, though he is lost to history after 1865. The author has imagined him as an adult wishing to piece together his past through asking questions of Varina. In this way, the book serves to query the past to attempt to understand it.

The timeline jumps forward and backward as Varina recounts her memories to James, which sometimes disrupts the flow, but is in keeping with the nature of memories. Several scenes in this book are particularly memorable, such as the fall of Richmond and Varina's meeting with a farm family in Georgia, and the author employs a florid writing style. The plot simmers but never boils over, and the characterization is centered on Varina. She is shown in a sympathetic light, as an unorthodox educated woman with strong opinions, not always in alignment with her husband, and someone who has grieved the deaths of many of her children. I would have thought she would have been a severe bigot, given her position as first lady of the Confederacy, but Varina is shown in this book as treating everyone with respect, though she never transcends the social structures and racism of the period. The book includes several tense episodes where James calls Varina to task for how she had benefitted from slavery. She grapples with being on the “wrong side of history,” and her role in perpetuating slavery, and ultimately reveals that she believes the right side won the war. In this sense, we find many parallels with current society, as we continue to wrestle with issues that originated from this period (and prior) in American history. The author invites us to learn more about her life by providing a suggested non-fiction reading list.

This book spurred me to do more research about the time-period and the people involved, which I always consider positive. Recommended to readers of American Civil War literature and those interested in this period of history.

Link to my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 2: by Booknblues (new)

Booknblues | 6852 comments I have been wondering about this one. I loved Cold Mountain, one of my favorite books of all times and have been thinking about reading this. Your review makes me want to read it. Great review. Thank you.


message 3: by Jgrace (new) - added it

Jgrace | 3105 comments Too many books. I returned this one to the library without reading it. Always happens. All the requests come in at the same time. It does sound good. Thanks for this review. I’ll get to it sometime.


Joy D | 4608 comments Jgrace wrote: "Too many books. I returned this one to the library without reading it. Always happens. All the requests come in at the same time. It does sound good. Thanks for this review. I’ll get to it sometime."


No problem. I will look forward to hearing what you think whenever you get a chance to read it.

Booknblues wrote: "I have been wondering about this one. I loved Cold Mountain, one of my favorite books of all times and have been thinking about reading this. Your review makes me want to read it. Grea..."

I haven't read Cold Mountain yet, but have it on my TBR.


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