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Stephen HarriganEspecially masterful is the trail-driving sequence, which is a model of concision, unshowy research and the easy authority of a novelist working with material he intuitively gets.
— The Washington Post
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This well-wrought sequel to McCaig's Civil War novel Jacob's Ladder(2003) covers the fractious years between Lee's surrender at Appomattox and Custer's defeat at Little Big Horn. To illustrate that complex, ugly era, the narrative follows the changing fortunes of a variety of personages—a Virginia plantation owner's family and former slaves, a Yankee carpetbagger and a railroad magnate among others. The character who best captures the contradictions that McCaig is after is Edward Ratcliff, top sergeant for the 38th Regiment, United States Colored Troops, who journeys from slave to free man to member of the South Carolina Santee Indian Tribe. Before the war, Ratcliff was known as a "hincty nigger," but his white army commander treats him with respect. After travels north and west, as a scout, a trail cook, cattle driver and sharpshooter, Edward looks for a context that affords a measure of esteem. Eventually he meets and marries She Goes Before and takes a Santee name, Plenty Cuts, because of his bullwhip scars. But as the U.S. continues the persecution of Native nations, robbing them of their natural resources, Ratcliff can no longer sustain his family. Eventually he takes a job as a scout for Custer at Little Big Horn, and his fate is sealed. McCaig's latest is authoritative and occasionally profound. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
This historical novel continues the action of Jacob's Ladder, McCaig's 1999 novel about Civil War-era Virginia, but it is even broader and more ambitious in scope. The scene shifts between the Great Plains, a Virginia plantation, and Manhattan as a diverse group of characters—black, white, and Native American—struggle to rebuild their lives after the war. The central story is the relationship between ex-slave and Union veteran Edward Ratcliff and She Goes Before, a Santee Sioux woman who serves as the book's principal narrator. Her account culminates with the massacre of George Custer's troops at Little Bighorn in 1876. McCaig's extensive research is revealed in the book's rich historical detail and revisionist perspective. Black life in Reconstruction-era Virginia is portrayed particularly well; Jesse Burns, who rises from slavery to become a state assemblyman, embodies the modest but real gains made by blacks in that brief, hopeful time. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/1/06.]
—Doug Southard Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Posted December 9, 2008
Lee's surrender at Appomattox impacts all Americans, but especially those in the south, the border states and even out west. Everywhere people struggle to adjust to the new world order as lives and relationships have changed. In this post war era, on their Stratford plantation, family patriarch Samuel Gatewoods seems in shock as he adjusts. His son Duncan comes home having lost an arm and suffering from battle fatigue syndrome compounded by his fighting as an officer for the losing side. Instead of working the plantation, Duncan builds railroads for former Confederate General Mahone while Samuel supplies them with crossties. Mahone's financer northern carpetbagger Eben Barnwell audaciously courts Samuel¿s granddaughter Pauline. Samuel¿s freed slave Jesse gives up on his dream of reuniting with his wife Maggie sold by Samuel when he owned both of them. Instead he is elected a Virginia Assemblyman. Out west, Lakota woman She Goes Before talks about her father's hanging and her rape as she travels to Montana to marry a former slave, Union Sergeant, Ratcliff. As the years go by, Custer is in Montana along with some of those easterners like Eben who left his wife Pauline to seek a new fortune and Ratcliff returning to his military glory days. --- Though a lot is packed in this profound fascinating look at the grim Reconstruction Era, historical fiction fans will want to read Donald McCaig¿s CANAAN, the sequel to JACOB'S LADDER. Give yourself plenty of time as the back and forth action can turn complex and convoluted though always intense. The story line focuses on these harassed characters representing three races as each tries to survive a world no longer remotely what it was before the war. Americana readers will appreciate this strong look at what happened in the east, south and west from the day after Appomattox until Custer¿s Last Stand. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.