I cannot recommend A Separate Country by Robert Hicks highly enough. The reading of this book was put off entirely too long, as usual. To give you some idea, the copy I have is an Advanced Reader Copy, sent to bookstores before the final edit/publication of the book, and the hardcover release was set for September 2009. Yep.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0446581658&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrThe novel is comprised of three voices: General John Bell Hood, a tragic leader of the Civil War, his wife Anna Marie, and Eli Griffin, whose place in the novel is highly unusual. General Hood is a real historical figure who led a doomed charge during the Civil War, making him responsible for the deaths of hundreds of young men. In the novel, as he is dying of yellow fever, Hood asks Eli Griffin (a man whom he barely knows and who once tried to kill him) to read his memoirs, seek out a certain man, and have them published.
Eli promises to do whatever it takes to get the memoir published, and by doing so uncovers a life that he never could have imagined. General Hood’s memoir, and his wife’s letters to her daughter, give Griffin and the novel’s readers insight into a life full of secrets–covered-up crimes, undisclosed associations, under-the-table rescues, etc. The reader sees that Anna Marie and General Hood, despite being in love with each other during the entire twelve years of their marriage (which ends with Anna Marie’s death), keep many things from each other. The fact that the novel is told in three parts gives fascinating perspective, showing two sides to events that both Anna Marie and General Hood witness, both seeing things that the other misses, both knowing things that they keep from the other.
Each character is marvelously different, well-developed, and enjoyable to read about in their own ways. Anna Marie is perhaps my favorite. She is a strong and somewhat rebellious young belle when she meets General Hood, and views him not as a cripple (he lost a leg and the use of one arm in the war) but a fascinating gentlemen with whom she falls almost instantly in love. Yet she is not a simpering idiot, as many young women in fiction are. She has a mind of her own and refuses to be owned by her husband. Though she has twelve babies in as many years, one does not get an “angel of the house” vibe from her as one would expect. She and General Hood love each other as equals. She is also compassionate, and befriends those of a class lower than her own. Finding orphan “Negro” creoles (though their skin is whiter than her own) in the swamp around New Orleans one night in her youth, she offers them assistance in escaping a city where they are unwanted and have no hope for a future, despite the risks to herself and her reputation. Though the escape is a failure, she ends up building friendships with these young men that last her entire life. The novel allows the reader to get to know these characters as well. Hicks does such a wonderful job of making the reader love and sympathize with his characters that, despite their sins, the reader is saddened to watch them fall, one by one.
I definitely recommend this book to any and all. It’s not really a romance, though there is some of that. It’s a bit of an adventure, but really it’s an exploration and dissection of the life of a real and somewhat despised character from American history. Hicks gives a new perspective on a man whose life seems to be greatly misunderstood.