MARCHING HOME

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This Civil War history
begins where most end, showing what happened to the men who fought to
preserve the Union.

Jordan’s (Civil War
Studies/Gettysburg Coll.) book is about the postwar tribulations of Billy
Yank. While the civilian population had had enough of war, those who
fought for the North were unwilling to forgive and forget, and they marched in
Washington a few weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered and Abraham Lincoln was
murdered. Two million boys in blue had fought in the war, and more than 800,000
were mustered out in six months—more veterans than the country had ever known.
In a nation that evidenced little appreciation beyond bombast for their
sacrifices, there was no national welfare policy, network or veterans’ service.
The Yanks had difficulties getting home. Many had lost limbs, and many were
unemployable and fell victim to alcoholism. Illness, poverty and suicide were
endemic badges of service. Like soldiers throughout history, they treasured
mementos of battle. More than warriors of the past, they united in the postwar
fight for recompense and respect. They returned to battlefields like Gettysburg
and prison camps like Andersonville and erected monuments to mark their
presence. They created newspapers, wrote memoirs and histories, and established
benevolent organizations—the most effective of which was the Grand Army of the
Republic. They campaigned for decent pensions and federal “asylums” to house
those who were impoverished and disabled. Jordan doesn’t need to emphasize
the obvious contemporary parallels. Assiduously researched—half the volume is
occupied by a bibliography and copious notes—his book is entirely founded on
the words of those who fought, extracted from letters, recollections and
reflections. The boys in blue who rallied around the flag are gone, but in
Jordan’s history, their words survive.

A useful history of how
“the terror of this unprecedented war long outlived the stacking of arms at
Appomattox.”

THE YOUNG T.E. LAWRENCE

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Sattin (The Gates of
Africa: Death, Discovery, and the Search for Timbuktu
, 2004, etc.) details
the early years of the man who loved the Arabian
people and determined to free them from Turkish rule.

As a young man, even
before his years at Jesus College at Oxford, T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935)
developed a love of all things medieval, especially knights and
castles. In 1906, as an 18-year-old, he bicycled 2,400 miles through
France seeking medieval churches and doing brass rubbings. Even at this young
age, his strength of character was obvious. His intense gaze, obsessive
concentration and photographic memory helped him become a man who would succeed
in being accepted and admired by all those he met. In 1909, Lawrence journeyed
to Syria to explore crusader castles and research his thesis, which was titled
“Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture.” He walked
everywhere in the area for the entire summer, felt he could never be
English again, and only left when he was robbed and beaten. His mentor, D.G.
Hogarth, Director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, then led him into his
happiest years, as an archaeologist. The author has explored and followed in
the footsteps of Lawrence, and it shows in his deep understanding of his goals,
why he did what he did and how he managed. Lawrence was assigned to the dig in
Carchemish near the Euphrates searching for a method to reveal their
cuneiform writings. He mastered Arabic and gained the respect of the natives,
easily winning their appreciation through his abilities and fearlessness in the
face of danger or hardship. Lawrence’s accomplishments in his youth are only
the beginning of the legend, something he fiercely disdained; what he did after
his 26th birthday is another story that readers hope Sattin will tackle.

A masterful account of
the beginnings of a unique man.

BLOOD-DRENCHED BEARD

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Pensive, sometimes oppressive, altogether impressive novel by a
young writer only now becoming known outside Brazil.

A translator of Zadie Smith and David Mitchell, Galera here
blends some of the wistfulness of Latin American magical realism with a
brooding dystopianism. His Macondo is a place called Garopaba, a beach town
that the world pretty well forgets once the season is over. There, a blameless
and nameless young man, left in the world without family or friends, finds an
anchorage of sorts and even something like love: “Jasmim is the first person he
has ever met,” our narrator tells us, “who knows what prosopagnosia is.” Prosopa
what? Well, the young man has an unfortunate condition that causes him to
forget faces, which makes it altogether too easy for bullies to victimize him
without him being able to identify the assailant. So they do, but they ‘fess up
to things like stealing his faithful old canine companion: “I forget people’s
faces,” he says. “Now who was it?” Says the bad guy, “It was me,” knowing that
his victim won’t remember in a minute, that he isn’t even capable of hating his
enemies, since he can’t tell them apart from anyone else. His tormentors may
have cause to behave badly, though, since, as the young man learns, his
grandfather, who was killed in Garopaba, may not have been altogether
undeserving of his fate. Galera writes lyrically of a land of jungle and beach,
even when the mood turns Hitchcock-ian: “He steps on a loose stone, and his
fall is broken by his backpack, but his elbow gets a good whack, and he feels
the pain travel up his arm to his shoulder like an electric shock.” The
mystery mounts: Will the young man plunge onto the rocks below? Will those he
trusts betray him? Are we really made of stardust? All will be revealed, though
Galera warns on the last count, “Stop talking like hippies.”

An elegant, literate and literary mystery of appearances and
disappearances.

VIVID FACES

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A bracing study of the
rebels who secured Ireland’s freedom from Britain nearly a century ago.

When it comes to people
who once lived and breathed, Foster (The Irish Story: Telling Tales and
Making It Up in Ireland
, 2002, etc.), perhaps the pre-eminent student of
Irish history working today, is no hagiographer. Moreover, he does not
subscribe to the great man theory of history. As he writes here, by way of
prelude, one of his interests is to show “how a revolutionary generation comes
to be made, rather than born.” Although Irish politics has been definitively
sectarian, especially in its nationalist (or unionist) dimensions, the author
observes that many of the first-generation rebels against British rule were
Protestant; one, Alice Milligan, described herself as an “internal prisoner” of
her family. In passing, Foster fruitfully compares the generation of rebels
that brought on the Easter Uprising of 1916 to the Bolsheviks who overthrew the
czar a year and a half later. While he notes that “this comparison should not
be pushed too far,” it is useful to remember that the Irish, whether the
comparatively conservative W.B. Yeats or the socialist Éamon de Valera, were
not operating in a vacuum. As Foster charts the growth of the nationalist and revolutionary
movements, the violence mounts. What had begun as a war of words and ideas soon
took on armed force, so that, by the time of the first Republic, “ ‘soldiers’
and ‘politicians’ were already regarding each other suspiciously, and the
implicit tension between moderate and extremist elements stretched to other
issues besides that of separation from British rule.” By the end of Foster’s
illuminating account, it is clear that the factionalism could only grow, to
often tragic ends.

Readable and provocative.
Students of contemporary Irish history have few better guides than the
sometimes-dyspeptic but refreshingly agenda-less Foster.

Modern Art

Two teenagers were on a tour of a modern art gallery. They suddenly found themselves alone in a room of modern sculpture and were staring at the
twisted pipes, broken glass, and tangled shapes.

One of them exclaimed, “We had better get out of here bef…