The Widow of the South

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For four or five generations, bare, unfinished walls looked down on everything from paintings and furniture to boxes and trunks and clothing — to scrapbooks and piles of miscellaneous papers.

I started to read. There were no diaries or letters in those rooms, but the scrapbooks and papers began to suggest some answers, even while I found myself asking more questions. I found obituaries from all over the country about Carrie McGavock, a woman who had lived a somewhat secluded life on her farm on the then-edge Franklin: Remembered not just by her immediate family, but a nation.

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The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

The obituaries clearly linked Carrie to the creation and maintenance of the Cemetery, but no journals or diaries were left to explain her motivation -- so, in the end, I felt that I had to sit down and explain, for myself, why she did what she did. This novel is the result of those late-night broodings. In the meantime, we've carried out a state-of-the-art restoration of the house and grounds. Before writing A Widow of the South, his first novel, Robert Hicks became obsessed with the civil war and worked to preserve a historic plantation in Tennessee.

The Widow of the South

It was the home of Carrie McGavock, who, with her slave Mariah, tended the wounds of thousands of dying Confederates after the Battle of Franklin, which claimed more than 9, lives on a single day in November This battle, in which six Confederate generals died, is rightly considered a turning point in the war. Carrie continued until her death in to tend the graves of the fallen. As we learn in an early chapter, General Nathaniel Bedford Forrest turned up one day and unexpectedly transformed her house into a field hospital. In deep seclusion while grieving for her three children, Carrie is led back into life by her confrontation with death, and by the rebirth of romantic love.

Hicks has reconstructed this astonishing tale from letters and diaries, adding to the factual mix a number of fictional characters, including Zachariah Cashwell, a young soldier from Arkansas whom Carrie nurses back to life.

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Their cautious, moving and unlikely love story forms a counterpoint to this otherwise bleak tale of death and dying, rendered in harsh particularity by Hicks, who writes in sturdy prose that never overplays its hand. A Widow of the South is about the aftershocks of battle, and their lingering effects on those who must die or live with deep wounds, physical and psychic.

Reading it, I became aware again of how the bad karma sown over a century and a half ago in the Old South continues to haunt Americans, who seem inevitably drawn into cycles of violence, which are always justified by those in charge as a defence of "freedom".

The difficulty of extricating oneself from such cycles is the direct theme of Canaan's Tongue, a brilliant if somewhat dizzying novel by John Wray, who arrived on the scene with The Right Hand of Sleep in , a moving novel set in the gloom of Austria in the late 30s. Much like Doctorow and Hicks, Wray is drawn to a "true" story, blending fiction with fact. Even Mark Twain was attracted to the story of the charismatic outlaw known as "the Redeemer", and wrote about him in Life on the Mississippi John Murrell called Morelle by Wray was one of the country's most illustrious gangsters - which is saying something.


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Wray narrates much of the book from the viewpoint of Virgil Ball, a one-eyed fellow from Kansas who finds himself irresistibly drawn to the Redeemer. Valiantly, Hicks returns to small, human stories in the midst of an epic catastrophe.

The Widow of the South

Though occasionally overwrought, this impressively researched novel will fascinate aficionados. View Full Version of PW. More By and About This Author. Compact Disc -


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