Varina: a novel by Charles Frazier

1. First lines. 2. Publisher: Harper Collins 3. Battle of Gettysburg (American Civil War) By Thure de Thulstrup [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 4. Mrs Jefferson Davis [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 5. James Henry Brooks (Jimmy Limber) taken into the Davis family as a child. American Civil War Museum 6. Jefferson Davis [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 7. “First Days Amongst the Contrabands” by Elizabeth Botume (a book published in 1893 about slaves classified as “contraband of war”, or captured enemy property.) Amazon
Well, I do declare, Varina is a force to be reckoned with. Although, not quite a Scarlett O’Hara.
I really liked this book.

Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis who was Leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, took in a young racially-mixed boy James Henry Brooks (known as Jimmie Limber) and treated him as part of the family. After the war, Varina fled south from Virginia with her children and Jimmie but they were captured by Northern forces and Jimmie was separated from her. She didn’t see him again. In this reimagined story, Jimmie finds her later in life after reading “First Days Amongst the Contrabands” about slaves – contraband of war. Varina’s life story is told in flashback over a period of seven weeks, as Jimmie spends Sundays with Varina.

“Children don’t judge their own lives. Normal for them is what’s laid before them day by day. Judgement comes later.”

“… life is mostly just what happens. Choice or chance or fate, gods or not. Things happen, we do what we think is in our best interests or just convenient, and then we live with the consequences.”

“It happened right after harvest time – Sherman’s raiders burned their way across Georgia. Corncribs full, fodder and forage stacked high in conical piles around eight-foot poles, apples all picked and stored fresh in root cellars for the fall or sun-dried in leathery rings for the winter. Onions and potatoes and turnips in root cellars, beans dried in the sun and ready for winter soup, cabbages still green in the field almost ready for cutting. Fat hogs that you didn’t want to have to feed for the cold months ready to slaughter and feast on fresh or salt and smoked for later. A winter’s food wiped out and people left starving.”

“V drifts into talking about generations. How grandparents and grandchildren so often get along very well. Remove one generation – twenty-five years at least – and the anger in both directions dissipates. All the failed expectations and betrayals become cleansed by an intervention of time. Resentment and need for retribution fall away. Love becomes the operative emotion.”

– Quotes from the book.
  • San Francisco Book Review: “… overall the book is an enjoyable, historical piece of fiction focusing on the life of an extraordinary woman, subject matter Frazier continues to address well.
  • Kirkus: “Intriguing subject. Uneven execution.”

Author’s website: Charles Frazier

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