Thursday, December 29, 2011
A Separate Country
Published September 2009 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: I won it in a drawing
Eli Griffin has been left a task by a dying man, a man he had tried to kill years earlier. Major General John Bell Hood, late of the Confederate army, knows that he can make Griffin feel obliged to discharge an obligation to make up for that attempt and in his dying hours sets Griffin to a task that will bring him into contact with characters that could not populate any city except New Orleans.
John Hood left the war with an arm he could not use and a leg that had been amputated yet the wounds that most profoundly marked him were the wounds that couldn't be seen. Hood was bitter and conflicted about what he had done in his years in the army and deeply disappointed with the legacy that he had left. He spent much of the rest of his life writing a book attempting to set the record straight. On his death bed, however, he tells Griffin that he wants that book destroyed and a more recent accounting of his life published. This is the story of his life with Anna Marie Hennen, a New Orleans beauty who was inexplicably drawn to the shattered man, who gave birth to his eleven children and who introduced him to people who could only have lived in New Orleans.
Griffin is left to deal with these people as he attempts to retrieve the original book from from Confederate General Beauregarde and to find a killer who Hood says must approve the publication of the second book. Along the way Griffin is drawn more deeply into the world that Hood has inhabited since he first met Anna Marie, a world that includes the dwarf, Rintrah, a priest without a church, Father Mike, and the memory of a beloved man whose legacy seems to contradict what Griffin learns about him.
Hicks moves the story of Griffin's task back and forth between the writings that both Hood and Anna Marie have left and Griffin's own search for the truth in a way that keeps the story moving along and never seems to become confusing (as can so often happen when authors choose this method of story telling). The story moves back and forth in time, slowly revealing new surprises along the way. Hicks does a marvelous job of creating multi-layered characters - in even the most hardened characters there is a soft place reserved for loved ones and old hurts. The city of New Orleans comes alive in Hicks' hands as does the time period immediately following the American Civil War.
Unfortunately, the book fell flat for me in the end. The story became too complex and implausible for me and a character that was introduced late in the story and seemed to be somewhat pivotal was never fully explained to my satisfaction. Still I enjoyed the book overall and I would recommend it for lovers of historical fiction, particularly those who enjoy stories revolving around the American Civil War.
I read this book for the War Through The Generations Challenge.