The Year of Jubilo: A Novel of the Civil War

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9780312280697: The Year of Jubilo: A Novel of the Civil War
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On a spring day in 1865 Gawain Harper trudges toward his home in Cumberland, Mississippi, where three years earlier he had boarded a train carrying the latest enlistees in the Mississippi Infantry. Unmoved by the cause that motivated so many others, he had joined up only when Morgan Rhea's father told Gawain that he would never wed his beloved Morgan unless he did his part in the war effort. Upon his return, he discovers post-war life is far from what he expected. Morgan has indeed waited for him, but before they can marry there are scores to be settled.

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Review:

Midway through Howard Bahr's gripping, evocative second novel, Colonel Burduck sums up the Civil War with this rueful conclusion: "Too much had happened, was still happening, and enough remained for generations to wallow in bitterness, making charge and countercharge, revising and accusing and apologizing long after the smoke had drifted away on the wind, and those who had walked through the smoke were dust." The Year of Jubilo, set in Cumberland, Mississippi, in the summer of 1865, is the account of some who passed through that smoke.

A reluctant soldier, Gawain Harper was goaded into joining the Confederate forces in 1862 by the rabid secessionist Judge Rhea, father of the woman Harper loves. After three years of fighting the Union, the former professor of literature is now trudging home defeated and confused, weighed down by the thought that he is "walking through someone else's memory." The South of his past has indeed vanished, and the town Harper returns to is now governed by the victorious (but wary) soldiers of the North and overflowing with vengeful planters, opportunistic spies, and the fear and ingrained attitudes of its vanquished citizens. These characters are larger than life, as only those who live in such a land and time--one of Queen Anne's lace and poisonous snakes, of Victorian manners and the human indignity of slavery--can be. There's "King" Solomon Gault, the ruthless captain of a band of insurrectionists, plotting an attack on the ruling army; Colonel Burduck, the battle-worn commander who captured slave ships off the African coast in his youth and must now maintain order in a region that once supported slavery; Molochi Fish, a grotesque semi-being who lurks on the edges of humanity, scarred by brutality and meting it out in return; and of course Harper, who, spurred on by the meddling but ebullient Harry Stribling, dives back into this mess to create a life and retrieve a love.

Time is as enveloping in The Year of Jubilo as the lingering smoke of war and the sudden downpours that drench Cumberland's burned landscape. Bahr weaves his characters in and out of one another's lives, creating an almost smothering net. Harper notes, "they were spared of death, so must once again pay the tally for living; free, so they were indentured to tomorrow." In a fascinating narrative of epic proportion and intricate detail, Bahr intertwines life, love, loyalty (or the lack thereof), freedom, slavery, and death. --S. Ketchum

About the Author:

Howard Bahr teaches English at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, Tennessee. His first novel, The Black Flower, was a New York Times Notable Book and received the Harold D. Vursell Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780805059724: The Year of Jubilo: A Novel of the Civil War

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ISBN 10:  0805059725 ISBN 13:  9780805059724
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co., 2000
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