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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Judas Field: A Novel of the Civil War by Howard Bahr

Majestic and Poetic - an Outstanding Experience

Howard Bahr
If you pick up The Judas Field give it about 30 pages. Up to that point I was fairly confused and lost. Then, it suddenly comes together and this book became one of the most powerful books I've read all year.

The book features two story lines - one set approximately 20 years after the Civil War and one that consists of flashbacks about the Battle of Franklin. Both are interesting. Bahr's descriptions of the battle contain some of the most poetic descriptions of the most awful things that men can do to one another that I've ever read. Truly beautifully written.

On top of that there is an ongoing discussion about the role of God in war. Does he take sides? Has he forsaken both sides? This discussion is not done lightly. These are not post-modernist characters - they believe in God but they must reconcile that belief with the awful experience of war - what they did, what they saw done and why God has allowed it. Here's a snippet of this discussion:

Confederate soldiers at the end of the war.
" 'What do you ask for then?' said the boy.

Roger pulled the quilt around his shoulders. 'To be forgiven,' he said.

They were quiet then. The snow swirled around them, borne on a cutting wind, and through it ghostly shapes began to pass, bending, searching, speaking softly." (pp. 168-9)

The dialogue works. The descriptions are so thorough that I could almost hear the horses stamp and the men groan and stretch. This book is an outstanding experience.

I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on October 24, 2008.

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