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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Year of Jubilo by Howard Bahr

The Year of Jubilo is the second book by Bahr that I've read. In fact, I bought this one because I enjoyed his novel, The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War so much. This book is different than the The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War , which was heavy on texture and feel. This book is every bit the equal of the first, but much more focused on plot and theme.

So, what is the theme? It's in the title. The Year of Jubilo refers to the Old Testament Hebrew tradition called the Year of Jubilee. Every 7 years, all slaves were forever released from bondage. This novel explores freedom of all sorts in a (barely) post-Civil War Alabama town. There is, obviously, the newly-won freedom of the slaves, but that is barely brushed upon in favor of deeper themes. There is freedom (or not) from the past, guilt, the entanglements of family, family honor, regional honor, friendship, obligations of social position and even love.

All of this is mostly told through two characters, Gawain Harper, a former college professor who joined the Confederate army to prove he was worthy to the father of the woman he loves and Harry Stribling, a former newspaperman who served in the Confederate cavalry during the war and is now a self-proclaimed philosopher. Bahr is not limited to these two characters, though. He has created a whole community in this book. Characters range from the Union colonel in charge of the occupying force to a former slave chaser to a smuggler.

Howard Bahr
The smuggler, King Solomon Gault, is by far the most interesting character. He has avoided the real war all together and has made himself rich by smuggling during the war. He literally sees himself as a god unto himself and he callously uses and destroys a great number of people to pump up his own sense of grandeur and freedom. He is the antagonist and all of the advances in the plot move through him and the reactions to him.

This novel has rich characters and sometimes almost poetic scene setting. It is a joy to read. I laughed out loud at parts and was surprised at the brutality and abruptness of other parts. I even read parts out loud to my wife.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War

Reviewed on August 14, 2004.

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