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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 120.
- Review Date: 2009-07-20
- Reviewer: Staff
Hicks follows his bestselling The Widow of the South with the grand, ripped-from-the-dusty-archives epic of Confederate general John Bell Hood. The story begins with Hood, on his deathbed with yellow fever, dispersing a stack of papers to former war nemesis Eli Griffin, urging him to publish the general's “secret memoir.” Hood's story picks up in 1878 as he, nearly broke, reflects on the past 10 years' dwindling fortunes. Now, with an artificial leg, a bum arm and nearly no money, he and his wife, Anna Marie, live in diminished circumstances in New Orleans. Over time, their once passionate relationship grows mundane as Hood “watched the years wrench devilry and lust and joy from her face.” Things are also complicated by the violent death of Anna Marie's best friend and the reappearance of former comrade Sebastien Lemerle, who holds a nasty secret he holds about Hood's past. Meanwhile, Hood's marriage and business failures pale in comparison to the yellow fever epidemic that decimates the area. Hicks's stunning narrative volleys between Hood, Anna Marie and Eli, each offering variety and texture to a story saturated in Southern gallantry and rich American history. (Sept.)
John Bell Hood's tormented journey
Part historical novel, part love letter to New Orleans, A Separate Country is the remarkable new novel by Robert Hicks, author of the bestseller The Widow of the South. Based on the real life of Confederate General John Bell Hood, the novel imagines Hood in the years after the war, crippled and trying to find peace despite his infamy. He ends up in New Orleans, a city both beautiful and corrupt, peaceful and filled with the cacophony of drinking, gambling and any other vice one can dream up.
Hood sets up shop as a cotton trader, but without any real business skills, he fails quickly. He spends years trying to write a book in defense of his war experiences, but his only real success is in marrying Anna Marie Hennan, a young Creole woman he meets at a ball: “I saw that if I had gone through my life intent on the ugly and difficult (as I had!), shedding every delicate and perfect part of my soul like so many raindrops, Anna Marie must have followed behind me gathering what I sloughed off so that one day I might sit in a ballroom in New Orleans and see for myself what I had lost.”
After several happy but increasingly impoverished years during which they have 11 children, Anna Marie and the Hoods’ oldest daughter, Lydia, die during a Yellow Fever epidemic. Hood, himself stricken with fever, calls his friend Eli to his deathbed and gives him the manuscript of a book he’s written—one not about war but about his life after the war. Eli also discovers Anna Marie’s secret journals, and he pieces together the story of their extraordinary, tough life together.
Hicks once again delivers a lovely, richly detailed tale pulled partly from history, partly from his own imagination. He captures the enchanting, dark, humid soul of post-war New Orleans, a time when anything was possible but nothing—at least for one Confederate—was easy.
Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.