This book was a disappointment to me. It’s not the book’s fault at all. The “book” is neither fiction, nor non-fiction, but merely a reprinting of selected newspaper articles from a Civil War era southern periodical, based out of New Orleans. I wanted to read it because, as a modern, fairly liberal individual, I was taught two things in school: that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves, and that the good guys won. But, knowing that “history is written by the winners,” I had a nagging urge to wrap my head around the Lost Cause that claimed so many lives. I’d heard conspiratorial whispers about it “really” being fought over States’ rights, Federal overreach, Cotton taxes, etc. I’d hoped to read this book and claim some insider knowledge about a confederate southerner’s way of thinking, so the next time I was at a cocktail party and a fellow party-goer got up on their high horse to denounce the evils of antebellum southern society, I could raise a warning flag about some of the peripheral issues that could contextualize the conflict.
Sadly, that does not appear to be the case. Rich, white, southern, christian slave-owners resisted the north’s “fanatical” abolitionist views because of one thing: the unbelievably high profit margins that free labor enabled them to reap off King Cotton, and sent hundreds of thousands of poor young men to slaughter to protect their assets. I’ve established it to my satisfaction by reading these articles “straight from the horse’s mouth” and I am appalled and ashamed at some of the biblical, pseudo-medical, pseudo-scientific defenses of slavery espoused therein. When all the rest of the world busied themselves with abolishing this ancient institution of violence during the late 18th and early 19th century, the southern American states not only defended it, but sought to strengthen and expand it. It saddens me to think how many young men had to die fighting over the question of whether one human being could legally own another and treat him or her as livestock.
Having said that, I will continue reading up on the Civil War, particularly how it affected the day-to-day lives of Southern civilians near the battle lines. But I did not achieve by consuming this book what I expected: a morsel of empathy for the confederate mindset. Perhaps that, itself, is a Lost Cause.
I can see why this book won a Pulitzer. The prose is as delicious and wonderful as any book I have ever read. With a little thought, I might be able to say it was the most delicious and wonderful prose I’ve ever read. I enjoyed following the deep intellectual moral wanderings of an aging pastor from a family of pastors. I enjoyed reading an account of the personal tragedy and moral grapplings of abolitionist violence incited in Kansas before the civil war. Stories of old pastors who preached with a gun on their belt who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot a confederate soldier in the street really challenge our black-and-white ideas of a “good vs evil” war. But this book is not about war. It is a touching, 300 page letter from an old father (77) to a young son (7) who knows, because of his late marriage and fatherhood, that his son will grow up never really knowing who he was. Marilynne Robinson weaves themes of violence and racism seamlessly into a story that is, at its core, about inter-generational family love. The format is off-putting. It is a novel with no chapter breaks and no plot that skips around considerably. It is essentially exactly what the protagonist meant it to be, a longhand autobiographical letter. I will keep this on my shelf forever and know I can come back and turn to a random page for inspiration on how to write beautiful and at the same time intellectually stimulating prose.
I want to put a concept on the public map for those who have not heard of it. The more people start googling it and asking their service providers and electronic stores about it, the sooner it could become a reality. Yes, I am guilty for slapping a jingoistic title to this otherwise bland blog post. “Revolution” is far too common a word, but I am really excited about this one. Continue reading
People often see my flip phone and react with a sense of dumbfoundedness, followed by disdain. Matters are made worse by the fact that I work in the field of IT and studied it in school. I’d like to take an opportunity to commit to paper (ahem, pixels) my reasoning. If you are reading this, it is likely that I’ve emailed this link to you because our in-person conversation was far too short to make tracks. Please take heart. I don’t intend to convert you, I merely wish for you to have the opportunity to ponder the question. Continue reading