Review by Booklist Review
What legacy befalls those who find themselves on history's wrong side? Frazier's (Nightwoods, 2011) fourth Southern historical novel centers on Varina Howell Davis, the unlikely first lady of the doomed Confederacy. Its nonlinear structure roams across her tragic life's vast landscape, from girlhood as an impoverished Mississippi planter's well-educated daughter to strained marriage to the much-older Jefferson Davis to old age in a Saratoga Springs rest home. There, regular visits from James Blake, an African American man she'd taken in as a child, prompt her recollections. Frazier crafts haunting scenes of her and her children's flight from Richmond via wagon through the devastated South and her morphine-hazed, funereal view of her husband's rain-soaked inauguration. Intelligent, outspoken, and clear-sighted but yoked to an intransigent man, the real Varina (who is called V throughout) sometimes feels elusive. One wonders what she could have become under different circumstances. In her conversations with James, she proclaims the right side won yet seems unable to fully grasp slavery's ramifications. This powerful realization of its time also has significant meaning for ours. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Starting with the international best-seller Cold Mountain (1997), Frazier's novels, and his newest will be energetically publicized, draw a large readership.--Johnson, Sarah Copyright 2018 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Varina Howell Davis (1826-1906), wife and widow of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, is an inspired choice as heroine for Frazier's riveting fourth novel (following Nightwoods). "Being on the wrong side of history carries consequences," he writes, and the events of Varina's life propel a suspenseful narrative. A quotation from her letters, "my name is a heritage of woe," is an apt description of the life depicted: Varina, called "V" throughout, is married at 18 to the much older Davis; becomes the mother of six children, only one of whom survives her; flees the collapse of the South as a desperate fugitive with a bounty on her head; and, later, is forced to earn a penurious living as a journalist. She is a flawed but fascinating woman-educated beyond the interests of most southern belles of her time, she is an avid reader of classical literature, fluent in Greek, and possesses a quick intelligence. Frazier alternates V's chapters with those of James Blake, an orphaned black boy rescued from the streets of Richmond and raised with V's brood. Frazier's interjection of historical detail is richly informative, and his descriptions of the natural world of the South are lyrical. While V's emotional reserve and stoic narration keep her from becoming a fully vibrant character, this is a sharp, evocative novel. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Review by Library Journal Review
Frazier reprises his Cold Mountain success, this time focusing on a less familiar historical figure from the Civil War: Varina, wife of Confederate president Jefferson -Davis. Varina's unconventional opinions and attitudes, contemporaneously perceived as less than fully enthusiastic toward her husband's lost cause, probably accounts for this gap in popular knowledge. Frazier tells her story in the form of an imagined oral memoir, in which she recounts her story to a black man, "-Jimmie Limber," whom she rescued from the streets of Richmond, VA, when he was abandoned as a toddler. Focusing on events following Lee's surrender when she and her children fled the Confederate capital, and bouncing between pre- and postwar events, this narrative approach succeeds after a slow start. The unveiling of Varina's sad story piques the reader's curiosity. Much of what Frazier imagines is consistent with the incomplete historical record surrounding Varina, and he fills in the blanks to reveal a powerful personality that, while of her times, has much to say to us today in respect of how the impact of great events on individuals can affect the history of those events. VERDICT Highly recommended for general readers as well as anyone interested in American history. [See Prepub Alert, 10/5/17.]-Vicki Gregory, Sch. of Information, Univ. of South Florida, Tampa © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.