Tag Archives: Civil War

Spotlight on The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

good lord bird

About The Book:

From Riverhead Hardcover

From the bestselling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive.

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.

Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.

An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

About The Author:

James McBride is an author, musician and screenwriter. His landmark memoir, “The Color of Water,” is considered an American James_McBrideclassic and read in schools and universities across the United States. His debut novel, “Miracle at St. Anna” was translated into a major motion picture directed by American film icon Spike Lee. It was released by Disney/Touchstone in September 2008. James also wrote the script for the film, now available on DVD. His novel, “Song Yet Sung,” was released in paperback in January 2009. His new novel about American revolutionary John Brown will be released in Feb. 2013. His latest work is the August 2013 film “Red Hook Summer” which he co-wrote and co-produced with acclaimed director Spike Lee.

James is the worst dancer in the history of African Americans, bar none, going back to slavetime and beyond. He should be legally barred from dancing at any party he attends. He dances with one finger in the air like a white guy.

He is also a former staff writer for The Boston Globe, People Magazine and The Washington Post. His work has appeared in Essence, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. His April, 2007 National Geographic story entitled “Hip Hop Planet” is considered a respected treatise on African American music and culture.

James toured as a sideman with jazz legend Jimmy Scott among others. He has also written songs (music and lyrics) for Anita Baker, Grover Washington Jr., Purafe, Gary Burton, and even for the PBS television character “Barney.” He did not write the “I Love You” song for Barney but wishes he did. He received the Stephen Sondheim Award and the Richard Rodgers Foundation Horizon Award for his musical “Bo-Bos” co-written with playwright Ed Shockley. His 2003 “Riffin’ and Pontificatin’ ” Musical Tour was captured in a nationallly televised Comcast documentary. He has been featured on national radio and television in America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

James is a native New Yorker and a graduate of  New York City public schools. He studied composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and received his Masters in Journalism from Columbia University in New York at age 22. He holds several honorary doctorates and is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.

Bookmagnet Says:

I cannot stop thinking about McBride’s newest novel.  Little Onion’s voice resonates with authenticity and humor.  In re-imagining one of the most important events in American history, McBride creates a rousing romp of a story.  I absolutely loved it and plan on reviewing the book next week.


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Filed under Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, fiction, historical fiction, history, literary fiction, Spotlight Books, Summer Reading

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt

(St. Martin’s Press; 368 pages; $25.99)

lookaway         The Johnstons of North Carolina really do put the “fun” in dysfunctional.  Your family will look tame and even normal by comparison.  Scandal seems to follow members of the Johnston family, proud descendants of Confederate Civil War General Joseph E. Johnston. Tradition, pride, and appearance matter a great deal to them, yet one thing is certain:  the Johnstons will not be sending out Christmas letters along with their Christmas cards anytime soon.  You know the ones I mean, and you probably have relatives who’ve sent you these, too, bragging about what their kids have accomplished this year.

Although Lookaway, Lookaway is not written in the same unique style in which Maria Semple wrote Where’d You Go, Bernadette, this singularly Southern story will appeal to Semple’s fans.  While Semple caricatured Seattle culture, Barnhardt satirizes the South.

Barnhardt offers up wit and cleverness, a combination guaranteed to elicit a loud guffaw or two.  Case in point:  “You’ll do something, I would hope, with your future Carolina degree,” Jerene Jarvis Johnston tells her daughter, Jerilyn, when she leaves for college.  “Enjoy your independence.  Work for a few years before you see which of the young men at Carolina seems destined for something besides his parents’ basement.  Or, given the atmosphere at Carolina, rehab.”  Wickedly hilarious, this piercing story will soon be all everyone is talking about.   Lookaway, Lookaway is the perfect social satire—Southern style.


Filed under book review, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, contemporary fiction, fiction, literary fiction, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Summer Reading

Book Review: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (Harper; 384 pages; $25.99).

            In 2004, African-American author Attica Locke and her husband attended the wedding of an interracial couple at Oak Alley Plantation.  Located in Vacherie, Louisiana, about fifty miles from New Orleans, the beautiful antebellum mansion provided the basis for the fictional “Twelve Oaks” in Gone with the Wind.  Locke and other wedding guests were bused in from New Orleans.  It wasn’t the ride, though, that made Locke uncomfortable.

            “You’re driving through rural, working-class Louisiana poverty,” she told NPR, “and all of a sudden, along the Mississippi, this incredibly majestic house, these beautiful grounds with these arching oak trees, just kind of rises up.  And I felt this tear inside — there’s no way to not feel the beauty of it because it is so stunning. But it also kind of made my stomach turn, because of what it represented.”

            Locke could not decide if having an interracial wedding on this plantation was an act of healing or if they were stomping on history.  She was so emotional she burst into tears.  The writer was certain the event was a metaphor “for where we are as a country, where we’re kind of caught between where we are and where we’re going.”

            Antebellum mansions like Oak Alley dot the Mississippi River Delta landscape of Louisiana and Mississippi.  Women in period dresses greet visitors at the door and guide them on a tour of the house and grounds.  Guests may imbibe in a little mint julep.  Visitors may even see a re-enactment or two.  Slave owners and slaves alike lament the coming of the Yankees.  The “happy darkies” profess their undying love and devotion to their masters.  In these plantations, the myth of “moonlight and magnolias,” long dispelled by historians, still prevails.

            Years later, when Barack Obama was elected President, the feeling she felt at Oak Alley came back to Locke.  The election “changed everything she had been taught about race.” 

This is the premise behind her latest mystery The Cutting Season, this reviewer’s second favorite mystery of the year (behind Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl).

            Swiftly-paced and compellingly readable, The Cutting Season features the thrilling tale of a double murder, centuries apart yet curiously related.  Locke’s whodunit takes the reader on a series of twists and turns.  The plot is unpredictable but always convincing. 

            Locke’s best feature is her ability to link characters to setting.  The story’s main protagonist, Caren, is the manager of fictional “Belle Vie” (“Beautiful Life”) Plantation.  Caren’s ties to Belle Vie are deep: her mother was the cook.  Caren grew up on this plantation.  In fact, she is the “great-great-great-granddaughter of slaves,” slaves who lived and worked at Belle Vie.    

            After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the home of Caren and her daughter, Morgan, they sought refuge at Belle Vie.  They have always felt safe here, among the re-enactors and others who work there.  They are a family.

            Their sense of security vanishes when the body of a cane worker from neighboring Groveland Corporation is discovered on plantation property.  She was murdered.  The killing may be related to the disappearance of Caren’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jason.

            Jason was brought to Belle Vie as a child.  Caren’s mother said that Jason “was a man to be proud of, slave or no slave.”  Jason was “a man who had lived with his head up and his back straight, a man who had lived a life of peace and fidelity…until he went mysteriously missing sometime after the Civil War.”  What happened to Jason was a mystery.  “Some said he had tired of cutting cane and walked out of the fields after the war, leaving a wife and child.  Some said he had problems with drink and women and that’s why he ran.  And still others, like Caren’s mother, thought he had likely met trouble here on the plantation; that he’d died at Belle Vie, and his soul never left the grounds.”  Jason’s ghost was even thought to haunt the slave quarters.

            Caren fears that she and her child may be the killer’s next targets.  Everyone is on edge; no one is safe.  No one can be trusted, not even old friends.  When it is clear the police have the wrong man, Caren must undertake her own investigation, no matter the cost. 

            In addition to the story’s main plot, the double murders, Locke introduces several interesting sub-plots.  Locke illustrates the plight of Hispanic cane workers and shows how powerless and scared they are when facing large companies, the government, and police.  An old romance between Caren and Eric, Morgan’s father, rekindles,  just when he is set to marry someone else.  Donovan, a re-enactor on the plantation, sets out to make a movie in which Jason is a central figure.

            The Cutting Season barely let this reviewer catch her breath.  I was so caught up in the action and mystery that I could not tear myself away from its pages.  The Cutting Season recalls the color and current of the muddy, meandering Mississippi River.  The story is swift; the plot is strong; the characters are murky; and the setting is shadowy. 

            The next time you find yourself near New Orleans or Baton Rouge, take a trip to the real Belle Vie– Oak Alley–the antebellum mansion that so moved Attica Locke. 





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Interview with Wilderness Author Lance Weller

Interview with Lance Weller, author of Wilderness

Jaime Boler: Lance, thank you so much for letting me interview you. Did you always want to be a writer?


Lance Weller: For as long as I can remember, yes.  My maternal grandmother had dreams of being a writer and always had the accoutrements of the craft lying around—pens, pads of paper, a really excellent typewriter—and some of my earliest memories are of monkeying around with all that wonderful stuff.


JB: How did you come up with the idea for Wilderness?  How did you come up with the character of Abel Truman?


LW: Abel Truman came to me well before I had any notion whatsoever that Wilderness would become what it ended up becoming.  I wanted to try and write a really excellent dog story and, to that end, started writing a short story about an old man and his dog and what became of them.  Before I really knew it, they were living on the Washington State coast and the old man was an American Civil War veteran and I was beyond the point where it was a short story by a good number of pages.


JB: The story behind Wilderness is inspirational because you never gave up.  You were very ill and did not write for months yet one thing made the difference for you.  Can you talk about what happened and how that gave you hope?


LW: I’d had Wilderness finished for some time but no one wanted it.  I couldn’t get anybody interested and it had been a long time since I’d seen my name in print on anything.  My illness, when it came, was nothing life-threatening, nothing dire, but fundamentally changed the way I thought about myself because, suddenly, I’d lost the use of the left side of my face and I felt awful, truly awful right down to my bones, all the time.  It forced an existential crisis wherein I started questioning everything I was and had been and on and on. 


At any rate, I didn’t do anything creative for a long time but, at the back of my mind, I knew with Wilderness I’d done the best I knew how.  Eventually, I sat down with the manuscript and started to rework it—not because it needed it (though it did) but because I wanted to relearn the discipline it took to get it done in the first place.  And, eventually, I saw an ad for a magazine looking for stories of the type that Wilderness was full of and, eventually, I got a tiny portion of the manuscript accepted for publication in that magazine.  It felt good and I felt good getting it ready and realized that, even though I’d lost faith for a time, was lost for a time, maybe what I’d managed with Wilderness was a thing that should not be let go so easily.


JB: You conducted extensive research for this novel on the Civil War from generals to conditions for soldiers to battles.  Did anything that you discovered surprise you?


LW: Nearly EVERYTHING I discovered surprised me.  I came from a place of vast, deep ignorance about the conflict and what I did know was pretty well sanitized.  The more I read, the more amazed I became; amazed at what the country went through, amazed at what was borne and amazed at the common soldier’s experience amidst the mud and blood.


JB: You were born in the Pacific Northwest and you write about it.  I am going to pose a question to you I previously asked Jonathan Odell (The Healing): I’ve always heard authors should write what they know best.  Is that why you set Wilderness in the Pacific Northwest?


LW: Partly.  I’m actually of the opinion that some of the best writing comes from stuff that lies outside an author’s everyday experience because, sometimes, you get some good insight; thus my plunge into Civil War history.  That being said, there doesn’t seem to be an overabundance of contemporary fiction set in the Pacific Northwest, at least not out on the coast where I put Abel, so it was a real pleasure and a challenge to dig into it. 


JB: I’ll be honest.  At times, it was so difficult to read your story.  It stirred a wide range of emotions in me (in a good way).  But how hard was it for you to write about the racism, the brutality, and the violence?  Did you ever have to stop to collect yourself?


LW: Not really.  I’d read so much history, so many soldiers’ letters and diaries and thought so long and deeply about what their experience must have been like that I think I became a little inured to the idea of the violence.  There were many times, though, that I came up for air—especially in the battle scenes—and worried I’d gone too far and then, after reading what I’d written, worried I’d not gone far enough to get it as right as I could.


JB: My favorite character in the story is probably Hypatia.  Do you have a favorite?  Or is that like asking a mother who her favorite child is?


LW: I really don’t have a favorite (but I will tell you I was pretty nervous writing Hypatia because I so wanted to get her right; so it’s really gratifying to hear she resonated for you).  I do really love Abel’s dog though…


JB: How do you feel when readers and critics (this one included) say Wilderness is better than Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain?


LW: I’m in a really happy position to find Wilderness often compared to a modern classic like Cold Mountain but, beyond their shared landscape of the American Civil War and their stories of men walking toward uncertain destinies, they are two vastly different books.  To tell the truth, I’m constantly surprised and humbled to be mentioned in the same breath as Frazier who is one of my big literary heroes.


JB: What is your writing process like?  What is a typical day of writing like for you?


LW: I have, I think, the very worst process it is possible to have.  It’s slow and methodical except for when it is not.  It’s overburdened with me being critical with myself except for when it’s not.  I average, maybe, a page a day except for when I do more (or sometimes less).  But I’m very lucky to have a dedicated space filled with stuff I love and (and this is important) I always, always have a dog at my feet.


JB: What is the last book you read?


LW: The last book I read that really bowled me over was Jeffrey Lent’s In the Fall—I’m very lucky NOT to have read it while I was working on Wilderness because it would have taken the heart right out of me it’s so grand and giving a book. 


And, lately, I’ve been rereading a lot of the pulp fiction I loved in my youth; so, a lot of RE Howard and Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Kenneth Robeson.  I’ll always have a soft spot for that sort of wide-eyed adventure story.


JB: Do you have any favorite authors?  If so, who are they?


LW: William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy and it more or less stops there.  I can read and reread them any number of times and get something new.


JB: What advice would you give someone working on a first novel?


LW: I don’t know that I’m best guy to answer that question considering how long I worked on Wilderness but I think the best advice I could offer would be to just keep working it and working it and working it—sentence after sentence—and worry about what you’ll end up with after you’ve ended up with it.


Also, if at all possible, have a dog at your feet.


JB: Are you working on anything new?


LW: Always.  Right now, I’m trying another period piece set in 1846 that’s gone from being the story of a marriage to becoming a sort of buddy/road novel about two friends who go to very dark places on the new frontier.


JB: What do hope readers take with them after reading Wilderness?


LW: If there’s one thing I’m learning from this first novel process, is that I need to be prepared to be constantly surprised at what people take away from the book.  I had little in the way of agendas when I wrote it and now, having seen it published, all I can hope for is that folks enjoy it.   There’s really nothing more I can ask for.


JB: Thank you, Lance, for a great interview.




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Spotlight on Wilderness by Lance Weller

I am about to begin reading Lance Weller’s Wilderness.  Critics and readers alike have compared the novel to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997).  That is high praise indeed.

Needless to say, I am very excited about Wilderness.

Here is what Goodreads has to say about the book:

“Thirty years after the Civil War’s Battle of the Wilderness left him maimed, Abel Truman has found his way to the edge of the continent, the rugged, majestic coast of Washington State, where he lives alone in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog. Wilderness is the story of Abel, now an old and ailing man, and his heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It’s a quest he has little hope of completing but still must undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war.As Abel makes his way into the foothills, the violence he endures at the hands of two thugs who are after his dog is crosscut with his memories of the horrors of the war, the friends he lost, and the savagery he took part in and witnessed. And yet, darkness is cut by light, especially in the people who have touched his life-from Jane Dao-Ming Poole, the daughter of murdered Chinese immigrants, to Hypatia, an escaped slave who nursed him back to life, and finally to the unbearable memory of the wife and child he lost as a young man. Haunted by tragedy, loss, and unspeakable brutality, Abel has somehow managed to hold on to his humanity, finding way stations of kindness along his tortured and ultimately redemptive path.In its contrasts of light and dark, wild and tame, brutal and tender, and its attempts to reconcile a horrific war with the great evil it ended, Wilderness tells not only the moving tale of an unforgettable character, but a story about who we are as human beings, a people, and a nation. Lance Weller’s immensely impressive debut immediately places him among our most talented writers.”

Jeffrey Lent calls Wilderness “magnificent.”  “Masterful,” says Jonathan Evison.  John Vernon deems it “stunning.”


Have you read Wilderness?  Are you currently reading it?  If so, please discuss it here!

The author


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September Fiction

It’s been said that the best books come out in the fall.  That time is just around the corner.  September fiction has some heavy hitters.  I have tried hard to narrow down my picks to ten.  These are, in my opinion, the best novels out in September.  Happy reading!

A novel that is out now is Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist, “set in the untamed American West, a highly original and haunting debut novel about a makeshift family whose dramatic lives are shaped by violence, love, and an indelible connection to the land.”  September 4 is the publication date for Ilie Ruby’s The Salt God’s Daughter.

“Set in Long Beach, California, beginning in the 1970s, The Salt God’s Daughter follows Ruthie and her older sister Dolly as they struggle for survival in a place governed by an enchanted ocean and exotic folklore.  Guided by a mother ruled by magical, elaborately-told stories of the full moons, which she draws from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the two girls are often homeless, often on their own, fiercely protective of each other, and unaware of how far they have drifted from traditional society as they carve a real life from their imagined stories.”

The incomparable Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth and On Beauty, has a new novel, NW, coming out September 4.

“This is the story of a city.

The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all.  And many people in between.

Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds.

And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation…

Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end.

Depicting the modern urban zone – familiar to town-dwellers everywhere – Zadie Smith’s NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.”

Perhaps one of fall’s biggest books also comes out September 4.  It is Lance Weller’s debut novel, Wilderness, a story that has been compared to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

“In its contrasts of light and dark, wild and tame, brutal and tender, and its attempts to reconcile a horrific war with the great evil it ended, Wilderness not only tells the moving tale of an unforgettable character, but a story about who we are as human beings, a people, and a nation.  Lance Weller’s immensely impressive debut immediately places him among our most talented writers.”

September 4 also marks the publication date for Lawrence Norfolk’s John Saturnall’s Feast.

“A beautiful, rich and sensuous historical novel, John Saturnall’s Feast tells the story of a young orphan who becomes a kitchen boy at a manor house, and rises through the ranks to become the greatest Cook of his generation. It is a story of food, star-crossed lovers, ancient myths and one boy’s rise from outcast to hero.”

Tatjana Soli’s second novel, The Forgetting Tree, will be released September 4.  Soli’s bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, was a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction, and won the James Tait Black Prize. 

“Now, with her new novel, The Forgetting Tree, Tatjana delivers a breathtaking story about a complicated California ranch family struggling to find peace in the aftermath of a tragedy.  Haunting, triumphant, and profound, The Forgetting Tree proves that Tatjana Soli is an author readers will remember for a long time to come.”

Little, Brown and Company will publish The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers on September 6.  Powers is a veteran of the Iraq War. 

“With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a distant war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds captures the almost unimaginable costs of war in language that is precise and truthful.  It is destined to become a classic.”

The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis will be released September 11.  “Behold, a tantalizing meeting of the minds: Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘science of observation’ and Niccolo Machiavelli’s ‘science of men.’  But is their brilliance enough to unmask an enigmatic serial killer?  The answer lies within…and the secret history of The Prince is revealed at last.”

September 17 is the release date for The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen.

Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus, has praised Jakobsen’s novel: “The best stories change you. I am not the same after The Vanishing Act as I was before.”  I trust Morgenstern implicitly, and her endorsement works for me.

T.C. Boyle’s new novel, San Miguel, comes out September 18.  “On a tiny, desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families, one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s, come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom.  Their extraordinary stories, full of struggle and hope, are the subject of T.C. Boyle’s haunting new novel.”

I think we’re all going to be doing a lot of reading this month!


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Bound to the Land

The Right-Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 368 pages; $27).


            With The Right-Hand Shore, Christopher Tilghman gives us a quietly beautiful novel about a family, a place, and the ties that both bind and constrain them.

The title refers to Mason’s Retreat, an estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  The Masons have been part of the land since the days after the Gunpowder Plot when their ancestor, the Emigrant, was exiled there.  Like people, the land can be complicated.

During the Civil War, Maryland was a border state.  Allegedly neither Confederate nor Union, some people’s loyalties were still divided.  Maryland’s location had a strategic importance for both North and South, and each side hoped to sway citizens to their cause.  As Tilghman writes, “In the North, there was one principle, one war, one story; in the South, one cause, one defense, one history; but in the borders, in the middle ground, there was as many principles and wars and histories as there were human beings to hold them, to survive them, to preserve them.”

Even before the outbreak of war in 1861, some men in Maryland knew that slavery was a dying institution.  Ogle S. Mason, the “Duke,” is such a man.  In 1857, Mason sells most of his field hands but keeps the house slaves.  He manumits them but fails to disclose them that information.  This is the kind of man he is.  On the day the slaves are sold, his daughter, Ophelia, watches, heartsick and helpless.

Tilghman does not shy away from subjects like these.  Mason is interested in the bottom line, and he knows that by selling his slaves, he can make a profit.  He reads the air and sniffs that war is coming.  Mason does not care that he rips families asunder.  But his daughter does; she lives with this regret for the rest of her life.

Perhaps because of the scene Ophelia witnesses in 1857, she feels no ties to Mason’s Retreat.  She wants as far from the Eastern Shore as she can get.  Upon her father’s death, she does not inherit the property; rather, because of some archaic custom, only men may inherit the land.  Her husband, Wyatt Bayly, owns the estate.

Even though he was not born there, Bayly loves the land and grows peaches.  While Ophelia flees for Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Paris with their daughter Mary, Bayly stays.  The land entrances him; it later kills him.  Their son, Thomas, stays with his father and feels abandoned by his mother.

Mary, interestingly, feels a kinship to her ancestral home, although she is miles away from it.  Mary is bound to the land.  Thomas, in contrast, feels jealousy when his father prefers his African-American best friend, Randall, over his own son.  Forbidden love forces Thomas to flee his home.  He later renounces all ties to it.

Ties to family and ties to land may be the prevailing themes of this novel, but Tilghman introduces other elements as well.  Mary is also constrained by her gender, her class, and her religion (she’s Catholic).  Randall’s sister, Beal, is confined by the same things that hamper Mary, but race and beauty also limit Beal.

By 1920, Mary is unmarried, childless, and dying of cancer.  She must find a male heir for Mason’s Retreat.  Edward Mason arrives with big dreams and dollar signs in his eyes.  He hears the history of the place and of the family.  Mesmerized, Edward finds the place pulling at him in ways he never expected.

Likewise, Mason’s Retreat entrances the reader.  More than that, though, the family draws you in.  Readers are vested in this family and in this place.  Reading this novel compels you to read to the end, despite the rampant racism of some of the characters.  That racism is to be expected since the novel takes place from the 1850s to 1920.

Tilghman’s research is impeccable.  Not only does he tackle the darkest days of American history, but he also intersperses European history throughout.  Science and botany are also found within these pages.  The Right-Hand Shore will appeal to a wide-ranging audience: history buffs, budding botanists and farmers, and all those who love an epic story.

The writing here is elegant.  Tilghman takes readers back and forth through time seamlessly.  However, the past he describes is always more interesting than the present.  In some instances, this reader finds it difficult to discern who is narrating the passages.  At one point, I even wonder if Tilghman tells the story from the place itself.  That is not the case.

I think, though, that such a point of view would have made a good novel an even better one.  The setting drives this story and actually becomes Tilghman’s strongest character.



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