Friday, June 13, 2008

Review: Hallam's War

Summary: Hugh and Serena Hallam have made the decision to leave everything they knew in Charleston behind them, hoping to create a stable, productive home for themselves and their three children in the near-wilderness of West Tennessee. Though now war may loom on the horizon, life at Palmyra is good, for both themselves and—they believe—their slaves.

Hugh is convinced that reasonable men of good will with a tolerant respect for their countrymen might yet prevail against the increasingly tense atmosphere that is dividing the two American cultures. Capable and practical, he is nevertheless considered by his neighbors to be an idealist, with progressive notions concerning the science of agriculture and the requirements of Southern commerce, an ambivalent attitude toward slavery, and a confidence about the way things should be done. But when events move their entire world toward destruction, Hugh’s values are put to the test, with only his surpassing love for Serena and his belief in himself to possibly sustain him.

Hallam’s War is the saga of one man’s struggle to defend his family, his neighbors and his honor, and of the moral compromises forced upon an otherwise good man caught in a maelstrom that leaves him no acceptable choices. A man of remarkable resilience, resourcefulness and contradictions, Hugh must learn to face his own conscience with as much courage as he displays at Shiloh. Ultimately, Hugh and Serena confront the reality surrounding their relationships with their neighbors and with their slaves. If neither of them is completely transformed, each takes a step toward a new understanding.

Elisabeth Payne Rosen’s near-epic debut is thoughtful, authentic and carefully researched. From Nashville and Memphis to Richmond, Charleston and Washington D.C., and across the bloody battlefields of Shiloh and Bull Run, Rosen brings vividly to life a heart-rending tale that resonates with deep personal grief shot through with moments of beauty and joy. In the end, there is hope for reconciliation among us all, even in the face of all the struggles that lie ahead. -- Unbridled Books

When I received HALLAM'S WAR by Elisabeth Payne Rosen in the mail last month, I took a quick look at it, thought it looked interesting, and then put it in my TBR pile. A few weeks later, Caitlin from Unbridled Books sent me an e-mail message giving me a little more information about the book and telling me "I just thought it was a super read, and I hope you do, too!" That little nudge/recommendation made me re-think my book priorities; and I moved it up to the top of my book pile. After reading this big book (473 pages) in a two day period (I didn't want to put it down even to take care of my kids), I can now say that she was absolutely right -- I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

I have always like reading historical fiction books about the Civil War, and this book was no exception. For some reason, I am fascinated by the events that occurred during this time period in our country. HALLAM'S WAR covers a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively, surrounding the Civil War. I enjoyed reading about the political upheaval during this time and seeing how this war impacted our entire country. Through the story of the Hallam's, this book gave me a very interesting (and different) perspective on the South and some of its people.

I fell in love with the Hallam family and their story! Both Hugh and Serena were extremely well-developed, complex characters who still had enough flaws to make them interesting. I liked seeing how they viewed themselves and their family's situation even though they were slave owners. They were basically hard-working, good people who were ultimately products of their environment. It was so nice to see their dedication to each other and their family; and I respected them both for their resilience and courage in tough times. As I said earlier, I didn't want to put the book down; but I I didn't want the story to end either. Ms. Payne Rosen definitely left the book open for a sequel, and I'm hoping that she will consider revisiting the Hallam family's story.

I think Ms. Payne Rosen did an amazing job of writing this novel. Not only is the book beautifully written, but it's apparent that she did a great deal of research on the events of the Civil War. I read that it took her twelve years to write this novel, and I believe it. The descriptions of the slave market, the battle scenes and the war hospitals are extremely vivid. It's obvious that Ms. Payne Rosen is quite the history buff because she did devote a large portion of the book to history and battles of the Civil War. While I actually preferred the parts of the story dedicated to the Hallams (and the other characters), I did appreciate the research and detail that she incorporated into the book.

If you are interested in learning more about HALLAM'S WAR, there are many interesting features on Unbridled Books' website including an excerpt from the book. There is also a very interesting Q&A with the author that explains how she went about writing this wonderful novel. I can assure you that this epic-like book would make a wonderful book to discuss at your next book club meeting (there is even a reading guide available to help stimulate discussion.) I highly recommend this incredible book!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love Historical Fiction too! Great review:) Tracy