Monday, December 31, 2012

Review of The Black Flower by Howard Bahr

The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil WarThe Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War by Howard Bahr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Growing up in the northwest, the Civil War / War Between the States/ War of Northern Aggression gets a brief mention, but classtime tended to focus on local history. Fur trade, Oregon trail, Native Americans. Since moving to the south, it has become more clear how very recent events like this war were, and everything seems related to it in some way. Most of the time, I get mistaken for a Southerner, but I always feel like I should know more about the history.

This book was selected for the December read for the On the Southern Literary Trail Group, one I joined intentionally to have greater exposure to southern lit. This piece of historical fiction serves two purposes - one more southern novel, but one that takes a very intimate and specific look at a small group of Confederate soldiers surrounding the events of the battle in Franklin, TN, in November 1864.

Most of the story circles around a rifleman named Bushrod Carter, although sometimes it goes off on tangents following other characters' backstories. My favorite bits of the book were between Bushrod and Anna, a girl helping out at a home the soldiers end up at for rest and recovery. You might be rolling your eyes and saying, "Oh, typical girl," but I'm not a war novel person most of the time. This would have never been something I would have picked up on my own to read, but I'm glad I did. It humanizes the events and the soldiers, it brings the situation to a very realistic place through descriptive and emotional writing, and makes some connections to the future (the present) that I was nodding along with, things I recognized in the southerners I know.

The most memorable moment for me is the author talking about the impact the war had on the women, after burying their dead, but also after welcoming home the men who hadn't died in battle.
"...This the women could not forgive. Much was taken, too little returned; distinctions blurred, and the hearts that might have lain like picked roses in the women's hands were buried forever under the stones of the dead.
So the women would not forgive. Their passion remained intact, carefully guarded and nurtured by the bitter knowledge of all they had lost, of all that had been stolen from them. For generations they vilified the Yankee race so the thief would have a face, a name, a mysterious country into which he had withdrawn and from which he might venture again...."
One Yankee slur in passing I'm including here so I can go research it:
"'Never fear,' said the Major. He smiled his broad smile, the corners of his mouth crinkling. 'The day ain't dawned I can't outrun a tribe of cheese-eaters.'"
Cheese-eaters? Ha!

Music is so frequently mentioned that I hunted down the songs explicitly mentioned and created a Spotify playlist. Annie Laurie is used throughout, a Scottish-origin ballad that seemed to comfort the soldiers, in fact they seemed to prefer it even as heading into battle, over a rousing march (much to one band-leader's chagrin!).

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