Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Separate Country

A Separate Country by Robert Hicks is what I chose to take with me on a recent trip to the Missouri Ozarks.  It was a great choice!  After visiting New Orleans for the first time ever this past June, this book evoked so many thoughts about the city!  As the subtitle reads "A Story of Redemption in the Aftermath of the Civil War", this is the story of a man trying to find redemption for his decisions. This is a fictionalized account of the life of Confederate General John Bell Hood, who was the last of the leading Confederate Generals to surrender in 1865.  The War had been hard on Hood who lost the use of his left arm and later lost his right leg.  He was a controversial General, appearing willing to recklessly risk his troop's lives and he left the War with a rather mixed reputation, following the loss of thousands under his command.

John Bell Hood (pictured at the right) was originally from Kentucky, but once the Civil War ended, he decided to settle in New Orleans, where he met and married Anna Marie Hedden.  He and Anna Marie had eleven children in ten years. A good part of the book is about their love story through-out their marriage.  John was not a business man, but he attempted to brokerage cotton and insurance; however, in 1878 yellow fever came to the city and as people either died or left the city, businesses failed and John lost everything. Over the next couple of years, yellow fever continued to devastate the city.  General Hood began helping with the sick, leaving his family for long periods of time.  It appeared to me that he was attempting to make amends for his War record.

There are many strong characters in the book, especially the close childhood friends of Anna Marie's who play central roles in the story, as General Hood's past catches up to him.

The story is a very sad and tragic one, but Robert Hicks tells it in a fascinating way.  I loved all the different descriptions of New Orleans and could picture right where he was talking about.   As others have remarked, this book is one about New Orleans, almost as much as it is about General John Bell Hood!

Monday, August 8, 2011

and the reading continues...

 I wish that I would read more, but I keep getting caught up in my genealogy, my grandchildren, my gardens, etc.  There is never enough time in my day!  Being retired is hard work sometimes!  Anyway, I got through two more books recently.

The first book is My Old True Love by Sheila Kay Adams (published 2004).  I got this at a book sale last year and finally got around to reading it and I really liked it!  It is another book that is based on the oral history of the author's family, which I always find interesting.

The story begins in 1854 in the Appalachian mountains when Arty Norton is nine years old and her widowed aunt dies giving birth to a baby boy.  The baby is named Larkin and Arty's family take him to raise.  Arty thinks of him as her very own baby and he calls her "Amma" for "mama".  Arty's brother, Hackley, and Larkin grow up together as best friends.  Predictably, both Larkin and Hackley grow up to fall in love with Mary.  Mary only has eyes for Hackley despite his womanizing, which continues after their marriage.  As the Civil War approaches, Hackley signs on and Larkin is left to take care of the women in the family, including Mary, who he is still in love with.  Hackley dies, and Larkin and Mary marry.

The story is told through Arty who is a very bright and insightful female, who spares no words or opinions. Arty continues to worry over Larkin through-out his life and sees what is going on with everyone.  She tells the story of mountain living, including the hunger, hardships, struggles and love.

The funny thing is that after I finished this book, I was aware of thinking (but not actually saying out loud) in the manner of speaking that the mountain people used in the book.  A sign that I really took the book in!

Unfortunately, the next book I read I didn't care too much for, although I did finish it, but I'm not sure why.  I think that I kept thinking that this couldn't really be going on.  The book I read was The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold.  The first sentence of the book:
"When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily."

Well, that was an interesting beginning...but I never really got the point of the whole story.  The whole book takes place in twenty-four hours.  Helen Knightly got a call from her mother's neighbor concerned about her mother's behavior, Helen rushed over to her mother's home.  Her mother, as we learn through-out the story, was a beautiful but mentally ill woman with whom Helen had never had a good relationship with.  But as the only child, after Helen's father died, Helen was left with the care of her mother.  Her mother lived in her own home, but Helen watched over her., and dementia had started to be taking over her mother.  I guess this particular day, Helen had had enough and she killed her mother.  The story does not improve after this...