Being on the wrong side of history carries consequences V lives that truth every day Varina Howell Davis, the wife of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis, was a strong woman who faced many challenges in her life Set in 1906, the elderly Varina talks about her life with James, a multiracial man, on six Sunday afternoons When James was four years old, Varina rescued the orphaned boy from an abusive situation She raised him with her children until the Confederacy fell The family fled southward until they were captured by the Union troops.Varina had a life filled with grief since most of her children died young She was married to an older man who was still grieving the death of his first wife She and Jeff only spent about half their married life together since they seemed to get along better when they communicated through letters Varina lived many years in Europe since she was safer there after the Civil War She helped support herself with her writing Varina spent much of her adult life dependent on opium to dull her emotional sorrow.Varina Davis and Julia Grant, the widow of President Grant, became close friends later in life They both recognized that the North and South needed to heal after the Civil War.The book does not follow a chronological timeline, but bounces around in time as Varina and James share their memories The flight after the fall of Richmond was especially poignant as the family traveled through the damaged southern landscape while hoping to find enough food to feed the children James observations on being a multiracial man in America were also valuable Varina is portrayed as a flawed, complex woman who would stand up for herself and the people she loved The book left me wondering what her life would have been if she was not connected with Jefferson Davis, one of the strong believers in a slave economy. Early reviews of this book are mixed but being the enthusiast that I am for Civil War era fiction and strong female protagonists, I really enjoyed it That this novel is based on a real person in history makes it doubly interesting though I would have liked to have known which parts were based on fact and which were fictionalized Perhaps the final version, unlike the ARC, will reveal some of this information in an Author s Note Just Google Varina Davis and Jefferson Davis wedding photo for their actual wedding photo, and you will get a visual description of this woman s spark.Unlike others, I did not read Cold Mountain gasp , and therefore went into this book with no preconceived notions, expectations, and no comparison meter I did watch the Cold Mountain movie and loved it.What I found was lyrical, period appropriate prose that was sometimes so beautiful I had to re read it for my own pleasure along with many quote worthy lines Children don t judge their own lives Normal for them is what s laid before them day by day Judgement comes later So even very young she saw slavery as an ancient practice arising because rich people would rather not do hard work, and also from the tendency of people to clench hard to advantageous passages in the Bible and dismiss the rest Humans are inhuman, whether it s by direct action or by acceptance of a horrible action as normal The you you are with others is not you To be lonesome is to be who you most fully are This is a story of history, the story of a strong woman and many women of the time, who were forced to marry young It s the story of a woman s feelings of culpability for her actions and the actions of her husband, president Jefferson Davis, in the face of slavery.It is a story that portrays the behavior of both sides North and South in equally horrific ways And maybe most laudable is that fact that the author could portray a character on the wrong side of history in such a sympathetic nature It is no small feat, and yet Frazier does so with finesse.Some may grouse at the actual structure of the book, but I found it did not slow me down There are no quotation marks, but em dashes, instead, to denote dialogue in some places Others are written in narrative he said or she said format, again, without quotes The book is told through a series of meetings with an interesting person from Varina s past in which she recollects and recounts her life to him I researched him fascinating The story is not linear, and in some ways, reads as a series of vignettes of history, jumping around a bit here and there There are A LOT of historical figures mentioned in this book, often at breakneck speed to some, it may read as a history dump, but I did not interpret it that way It appears that Varina Davis was simply THAT connected to so many historical figures a fact I found interesting in itself.All said, I wanted to learn about this woman we meet in the later years of her life, a stand offish woman who recounts her past to a weekly visitor how she grew to be stubborn and direct, what it was like to be the first lady of the Confederate States, what it was like to suffer such hardship, and how one might reconcile such a life as the years pass by.If you enjoy literary fiction, historical fiction, and history, itself, this is a must read It is a slow, quiet unraveling of the past, a story to take your time reading Recommend If I have a complaint, it s that I wanted of the weekly visitor backstory, current story, just Much Thanks to my book angel for passing this ARC along to me when she was done Haven t you seen me sleepwalking cause I ve been holding your handHaven t you noticed me driftingOhLet me tell you I amTell me it s nothingTry to convince me that I m not drowningOhLet me tell you I am Why I am feeling so guiltyWhy I am holding my breathWorry about everyone but me and I just keep losing myselfTell me it s nothingTry to convince me that I m not drowningOhLet me tell you I amFalling, The Civil Wars, Songwriters Joy Williams John Whitehttps www.youtube.com watch v 8qdk33.5 StarsSaratoga Springs, 1906 A year ago, walking down a street in Albany, he heard a dozen syllables of someone singing Alouette through an open second story window The song twitched a strong nerve of memory from the deep past a ribbon of road stretching forward, a swath of starry sky visible between tops of pine trees, a thin paring of moon, a brown eyed mother hugging him close and pointing out the patterns of constellations, telling their names and stories Entrained with those hazy memories came a surging feeling like love No living relatives, recently a widower, no links to the past until six months ago when a title on a bookstore shelf drew him First Days Among the Contrabands.He had reached for it thinking it would be a mystery His name is James, and he stands by the fireplace and waits When she returns to the lobby of this combination hotel and hospital, he wants to ask her about a book, the names of the children He knew them, he says He believes he is the Jimmie in this book She believes he is playing a game, of sorts When she finally begins to believe, she sits frozen in her memories for a moment I hardly know anything about my life then, he says Sit down and I ll tell you what I remember 1865 Things fell apart slowly before they fell apart fast As Varina, or V, shares the story of her life, moving back and forth through time and place, she shares a childhood spent in Natchez, Mississippi, her marriage to widower Jefferson Davis He was around 35, she was 17 when they first were married For their honeymoon, he took her to meet his mother, as none of the groom s family had attended the wedding, and also to visit the grave of his first wife Then there are the changes, and moves, that come with his political career They don t spend all their time together, she often doesn t agree with him politically, but it s all very polite Varina Davis is the narrator, second wife of Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederate States, and she must find safety for herself and her children, including the young boy named James, and a few others They are traveling through the remains of towns, by homes that have likely been raided multiple times, already It s easy to picture this all, the land has been desecrated, an early man made apocalypse Those whose shelter remains usable are trying to protect their own and what is theirs, just trying to hold on It was so easy to picture everything they were seeing, enduring During this time, I was deeply immersed in this story, living in these pages The writing throughout is often lovely, but the timeline varied quite a bit, which doesn t normally bother me I enjoyed these in the same manner I would the stories I used to be told by my grandparents, vignettes of another time and place, places, some lovely or interesting than others I loved that I was learning about a woman I knew very little about, and she was a fascinating, especially given the place and time I only wish there had been even about Varina, time spent sharing of her intriguing story, and the story of James Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book I loved Cold Mountain But after about 50 pages, I didn t really care about this, and life is too short to force yourself to read things. Not a book for those who love plot, but a delight for those who love character and strange, beautiful sentences I have rarely read so slowly just to savor the words One of my favorite books I ve read in the last ten years No rating, although I can t imagine that it would be above a 2 regardless This was not readable to me I only got to page 72, life is just too short for me not to find a better read It jumps and to me there is next to no continuity in the directional lines Plus I ve seen the places she lived and one house for many years in particular and this just does NOT mesh with her words I read there clothes of hers I saw too or her artifacts history But it was primarily the forms of the prose used Just terrible Scattered and you need to be a clairvoyant to understand the connections of her thought processes This book is not for me and is just not worth the work it would take to decipher Varina I m fairly sure the history is exceptionally revised too One event in particular seems nearly the opposite of what actually happened. Varina The Consequences of Complacency Varina by Charles Frazier was chosen as a Group Read by members of On the Southern Literary Trail for August, 2018.Oh, Mary said, life is mostly just what happens Choice or chance or fate, gods or not Like it or not Things happen, we do what we think is in our best interests or just convenient, and then we live with the consequencesI have admired the writing of Charles Frazier since his first novel, Cold Mountain received the National Book Award Each of his successive books have been remarkably good and remarkably different However, with Varina, Frazier has written his most thoughtful and complex work.Frazier brings to life American society from the Mexican War through the American Civil War and beyond Reconstruction casting his characters with the family of Jefferson Davis, particularly his bride, half his age, Varina Davis n e Howell The daughter of a failed Natchez businessman, Varina is sent to visit the Davis Plantation She is given no explanation However, when Congressman Jefferson Davis rides up to the plantation mansion she notes how well he sits his horse and the trim fit of his suit Marriage follows The first hint of something amiss is Davis making a visit to his first wife s grave Varina wonders whether she shares her marriage with a ghost.War is brewing with Mexico Davis promises not to go to war, lying, having already enlisted He returns a wounded hero and rises from Congressman to Senator The heart of the book is set during and after the American Civil War.The brilliance of this novel emerges through Frazier having Varina be his principal narrator, allowing her to emerge from the shadow of history she has previously occupied He further introduces Jim Limber, a free black child whom Varina took into the Davis home as a foster child Jim became a constant playmate of the Davis children living in the nursery with them.Varina s portrait of her husband is not a flattering one He is sombre, lacking humor Upon the defeat of the Confederacy, he would willingly walk the steps to the gallows to be a martyr to Constitutional principle without regard to the fate of his wife and children Their marriage is one better practiced by post than presence.Upon the Union Army s capture of Davis and his family in Georgia, Varina requested an old family friend, Union General Rufus Saxton take Jimmie into his care Years later, Varina is approached by a young adult black male carrying the memoir of Elizabeth Hyde Botume, First Days Amongst the Contrabands, which contains a chapter on Jim Limber Am I that boy, he wants to know Do you remember me Jim serves as a foil to Varina s memories of plantation kindness and her thoughts of slaves as having merely been her friends He asks her the hard questions Did you own me What was I to you A pet A toy The growing relationship between adult Jimmy and the aging Varina provide some of the most moving scenes in this novel We learn Jim s take away through his thoughts recorded in a notebook of their conversations and Varina s memories prompted by their meetings Jim tells VarinaIf you mean slaves, you only remember what they allowed you to remember Even if Davis Bend was really as humane as you believe, they kept their misery to themselves, kept it a mystery to you I promise that s true Think of it as a great gift, a mark of affection Their protection of your memoryVarinaWhether you pick well or poorly, the act of choosing carries grief Leaves you wondering, years later, what life might have been had you chosen differently Or even wishing you d simply paused, taken a long, deep breath Not allowed the personal moment and the pattern of your family and your stupid culture to shove you two handed from behind, forcing you to stumble unbalanced into the future I sometimes imagine meeting my seventeen year old self She s still here inside me somewhere Maybe one morning in the mirror, there she ll be I look at her with affection and understanding and hope She sees me and backs away in horror while I try to explain why I made the choices I madeSo we end where Mary Boykin Chesnut began We live with the consequences, as Varina did But we must recognize that Varina was no villainess, but a woman, for all the intelligence and kindness she possessed, lived in a world where she too was a slave to the power of men.This is historical fiction written as it should be Frazier continues to remain among my favorite contemporary American authors. I recently discovered these Civil War letters in the attic from my relative, Jubal Burnside who fought at Shiloh, Chickamauga, and several other bloody campaigns I have transcribed them in their entirety for your information and interestMy precious Clara,We are now awaiting steamers to transport the troops to Christiana The division is to garrison for the rest of the summer, a most disgusting prospect, and a fate I hope to escape The weather is delightful, but very hot and there is the greatest abundance of blackberries Maj General Walker has the troops reading Varina , by Charles Frazier Apparently Frazier is a big deal, the Yankees gave him a National Book Award for his previous novel, Cold MountainThe Bluebellies even made a moving picture of it starring an Australian woman and Renee Zellweger who is at least from the great state of Texas However, the boys and I would be happy reading less vexing stories Maybe a thriller like The Woman in the Plantation , or Dreamy Antebellum Vampire Hunk Yet, Varinais delightful and noble in it s own manner Frazier details the story of our President Jeff Davis s wife, Varina Davis in the last days of this god awful Hell It s a simple, character focused story that jumps between the closing days as the South tragically falls, and 1906 where Varina is living in exile James Blake, once an unwanted black child Varina took in and raised for a spell with her children, has come to speak to her in Saratoga Springs attempting to find out what truly happened during his youth.There are only a few hundred pages, so I feel I shall persevere I am than anxious to see you my darling, but still undecided about when I shall come Look for me when you see me, is as near as I can come to it.Yr own loving devoted , Jubal And there was this one he wrote to his motherDearest MotherI shall take to the pensil to let you know I am well We have just returned from a trip into E Tenn where we got big amounts of everything to eat and everything we eat is so good though not as good as your squirrel dumplings with a side of your special kimchi I d give anything to dine with you and father, drinking a gallon of that La Croix Berry sparkling water we d pick up at Whole Foods I miss home I miss everything about it from the farm, the cooling waters of our creek, to Indian leg wrestling grandma in the West parlor For an 89 year old amputee with the gout, Grandma could surly flip over the best of us The shelling of Petersburg has commenced again vigorously than ever As we are hunkered down, me and the boys have finished Varina That Frazier can really write This simple book has depths deeper than the Mississippi The way he has drawn Varina is a revelation, she is plucky and real, yet still complacent in this great tragedy that tears apart the country This duality drives the book how can one person so grounded, smart, and moral participate in an endeavor so evil While slow moving, all the boys and myself have really enjoyed Charles Frazier s Varina I would recommend it to you and your book club as well as to anyone who enjoys a well written yarn.It brings joy as the enemy still holds it s position and our lines are drawn up close My love to you and father, cousin Sackrider, and of course dear Fannie Licker.Write when you can and a long letter as I am anxious to hear from you.Your son,Jubal I m not one to jump on the bandwagon of every new fiction published, but sometimes, if it s an author I ve read before, or if I m certain there will be reviews and interviews and hype, then I like like to get ahead of the crowd and form an opinion based on the book itself, instead of what others think That happened with this book, as I loved Cold Mountain 20 years ago, and of course, Civil War historical fiction is right up my alley The library cooperated by getting it to me promptly I was first on the list , so I m ahead of the curve on this one.Varina Howell Davis was the wife of Jefferson Davis, the only first lady of the Confederacy, but has always been a footnote in the history of that time Who cares Charles Frazier cared, and has created a flesh and blood character who walks with us before, during, and after the war She was a child bride of seventeen when they married, he than 20 years her senior They had six children, of which only one survived her Well educated by a tutor at her home in Mississippi, she read the ancient classics, could read Greek and some Latin, and could hold her own in conversation of important topics of the day Her family held no slaves, and her views on the subject were different from others of her class Even very young she saw slavery as an ancient practice arising because rich people would rather not do hard work, and also from the tendency of people to clench hard to advantageous passages in the Bible and dismiss the rest There were a lot of quotable passages in this book, because Frazier s style is slow and considered, meaning that some paragraphs had to be reread, either for the beauty and pleasure contained in them, or to make sure you didn t miss anything Being on the wrong side of history carries consequences Even if your sin like dirt farmers in Sherman s path had been simply to live in the wrong place, you suffered Those were times that required choosing a side and then, sooner or later, history asks, which side were you on I m no historian, but I think the author did his homework on this one It puts you squarely in that time and that world, and inside the mind of Varina Davis, who seemed to be someone I could have been friends with I also appreciated the framework of the novel, moving back and forth between the past and the present before her death A solid 4 stars for what this novel afforded me A chance to get close to someone I d never even considered before.I ll end this with one quote from Varina s thoughts You can mire yourself in the past, but you can t change a damn thing in that lost world. In His Powerful Fourth Novel, Charles Frazier Returns To The Time And Place Of Cold Mountain, Vividly Bringing To Life The Chaos And Devastation Of The Civil WarWith 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 White Hot Center Of One Of The Darkest Moments In American History Culpable Regardless Of Her IntentionsThe 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 Intimate In Its Detailed Observations Of One Woman S Tragic Life And Epic In Its Scope And Power, Varina Is A Novel Of An American War And Its Aftermath Ultimately, The Book Is A Portrait Of A Woman Who Comes To Realize That Complicity Carries Consequences
Charles Frazier is an award winning author of American historical fiction His literary corpus, to date, is comprised of three New York Times best selling novels Nightwoods 2011 , Thirteen Moons 2006 , and Cold Mountain 1997 winner of the National Book Award for Fiction Librarian Note There are multiple authors in the goodreads database with this name.
- Kindle Edition
- 368 pages
- Charles Frazier
- 03 August 2017 Charles Frazier