A “sweeping, cinematic story of rebellion, loyalty, revenge, and reawakened romance” set in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War (The New York Times Book Review).
A New York Times Notable Book
The last time Gawain Harper saw Cumberland, Mississippi, he was heading off to fight for the newly formed Confederate States of America—driven not by the cause that motivated so many others, but by love. The father of his beloved, Morgan Rhea, refused to allow her to be courted by a man who would not take up arms to defend the South. So Gawain joined the Mississippi Infantry—and now, three nightmarish years later, he is coming home.
But postwar Cumberland is not the place Gawain so fondly remembered. An occupying force of Union soldiers keeps uneasy watch over the townspeople, including an erstwhile slave hunter and an albino gravedigger known as Old Hundred-and-Eleven. Meanwhile, a bloodthirsty former Confederate officer named King Solomon Gault is organizing a secret militia to drive the occupiers out and bring the entire region under his ruthless control. Before Gawain can marry Morgan and build their new life together, he must return to the world of violence and turmoil he has been so desperate to escape.
With “complex, well-crafted, often beautiful prose” (TheSeattle Times) and “a cast of characters worthy of a Larry McMurtry novel” (Newsday), The Year of Jubilo is a stunning achievement from the award-winning author of The Black Flower and The Judas Field.
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Gawain Harper stood in the deep mud of the southerly road, listening. To the west, just across the low ridge, he could hear the chuff of a steam sawmill, the whine of the blade, and, when the blade was still, the unhurried voices of men. Over these sounds, and through them, wove the drowsy music of crickets in the grass, and a blue jay complaining. Gawain found the jay in the green arch of the trees, bobbing up and down, running through his litany of scorn. The bird was handsome in his black necklace and blue frock coat, up there where the sun was. Soon another joined him, then another, and in a moment half a dozen were jeering down at Gawain Harper as if he were a snake or a tomcat or a raccoon come for robbing.
"Good God, boys," laughed Gawain, and jeered back at them.
In the road lay a fat, florid carpet bag and a U.S. bull's-eye canteen. Gawain knelt, uncorked the canteen and drank. He could smell the water as he tasted it — a sweet, dark odor like the inside of a gourd — and smell the cork and the rust-spotted wool cover of the canteen. The tang of new-cut pine from the sawmill reached him, the reek of mud and wet leaves and the wood smoke drifting through the trees. He could smell the trees themselves: the cedars and pines, oaks and hickories, all second-growth timber but already smelling old, as if they'd stood since the beginning of the world. He imagined he could smell the very sunlight where it slanted through the leaves, and breathe of the shadows, the blue sky and the clouds that drifted overhead like little flags. And something else, too — compounded of all the rest and better than them all, better than anything Gawain Harper had ever smelled in his life. At first he could not put a name to it. He looked around to see if he could find any one thing that could give of such a smell, but nothing was there that Wasn't there before. He stood up and took off his hat and peered down the road, holding his breath, watching. The road was empty. He was alone.
So that is it, he thought. That is what freedom smells like. And he was thankful he could smell all these things together.
He stood awhile longer, breathing the air that was already hot though it wasn't yet eight o'clock, and listening to the sawmill working over the ridge. Then, when he wanted to, he picked up his carpet bag and moved on, keeping to the edge of the road where the mud was not so deep.
THE ROAD WAS changing with the season, though in many ways it still held the shape of spring, when it was churned by cavalry, deep-rutted by guns and limbers and the heavy trains of armies pursuing and pursued. Infantry had passed here too, and the mud still bore in places the prints — barefoot and shod — of men who had come this way, and some of these were dead now, and some were home, and some were traveling other roads homeward. But all this impress was fading under the rains, and soon the ruts and the marks of men would collapse little by little and dissolve into summer dust. Then whatever memory the road clung to would be gone as well, as if what had happened here had never happened at all. Such was the way of roads then, if not of those who journeyed them.
The night before, Gawain tarried in the house of a second cousin who lived just beyond the Cumberland County line. He passed the evening among women and children and dogs, all of them sitting on the gallery in the summer night, watching the fireflies lift their lanterns in the yard. The cousin himself, whose regiment ended up with the Virginia army, had not come home as yet, nor any news of him since the early spring; still, the sense of him was there — a dark, empty, yearning space he was, sitting with them on the broad porch among the creaking chairs. The women spoke of him only in the future tense: When he comes home. ... When he fixes the well-house roof. ... When he can plow or When he can clear new ground and What will he do to set things right now the negroes have run off. ... And, Jamie, he will have something to say to you about the way you cut your hair, you mark my words, and Won't it grieve him to learn about Papa? and My, he won't know what to think, here is Tom growed a foot and wearin shoes in the summertime. Gawain listened and smoked and nodded his head, saying Yes, he'll be fit to be tied, and Yes, won't he though? and No, I can't imagine what he'll say to that, and never rising to the question the women would not ask, giving them nothing because he had nothing to give. He listened to them speak of the old pattern of life as if, just by talking, they could hold fast to it awhile longer. He supposed he would do the same thing himself, once he understood that it was really gone.
"How many them yankees did you kill, Cousin Gawain?" asked the least boy, his face earnest in the starlight.
Gawain flinched, then smiled at the lad. "Oh, hundreds and hundreds," he said. Then he showed them the powder grains lodged in his hand, and told something of his adventures, though not much. The women listened politely, and the children asked other questions that made him flinch, that might have led him to places he did not want to go again. So he told only a mild sketch or two — of a long march in the rain, of stealing a hog, of a snowball fight between brigades — things the cousin himself might tell if he were able to speak. And all the while Gawain imagined his cousin in the shadows, leaning against the balustrade, his eyes warning I know what you want to tell, but you can't, you can't and Gawain saying back Don't worry, I will never tell and trying to mean it.
Once, when they'd been quiet awhile, the cousin's wife reached across the little space between them and laid her hand on Gawain's wrist. "You know," she said, "Cumberland is burned since last summer."
He nodded. "We heard that. Somebody told it back in the winter when we got down to Tupelo. The whole square, they said, and the Academy, but not many houses."
"Not many," she said. "I supposed you ought to be ready, had it not come to you. There is a right smart of yankees there even now, but not the same ones who burned it."
"I am ready," Gawain said. "I expect it." That was a lie, though he did not know yet that it was. After a moment, he said, "My daddy's?"
The woman shook her head. "No," she said. "It stands yet."
"Thank God for it," said Gawain. Another quiet space then, while he formed the question, looked at it from all sides, then uttered it at last: "And Judge Rhea's?"
This time the woman sighed and did not answer right away, and for Gawain that was answer enough. His hands tightened on the arms of the chair, and even as they did so, the woman's hand tightened on his wrist. Hers was a small hand, but strong; Gawain felt the blunt nails dig into his skin. "Don't fret yourself over that," she said. "It was only just a house."
"Ah," he said.
"I was over there in April, found them all stayin at old T. J. Carter's house, who is Ida Rhea's cousin by marriage, I believe. Carter's boy was lost at —" She stopped, and moved her hand downward until it lay gently over Gawain's. "Oh, well," she said, "I don't need to tell you that."
"No," said Gawain. He searched his mind for the Carter boy's face, found he could not see it clearly. That was often the way with the dead. After a moment, he asked the wife, "You saw them then? You saw the Judge and Miss Ida? Young Alex?"
"All well," she said. "Though the Judge has aged some."
He waited. He knew that she knew he was waiting. She wanted to hear him ask it — because she was a woman, and because he was a man and ought to ask it. Finally, he said, "And you saw Morgan? How does she fare?"
He could not see the woman blush in the darkness. "Very well," she said. "We took a stroll down by Leaf River. 'Twas the first warm day, and the old dogwoods in bloom, and the willows green, and the water high from all this rain. I recall we saw a martin scout, first one I saw this year. 'Twas pretty, Gawain. You'd of thought there'd never been a sorrow in this world."
Gawain stared out at the arabesque shadows in the yard, at the fireflies rising, blinking, illusive as the dream of two women walking among the delicate willows, clutching their shawls about them, watching the river. The vision came and went like the fireflies' light. He could not see their faces.
"She spoke of you," said the woman softly, and lifted her hand from Gawain's. "I can tell that, can't I?"
Gawain smiled himself then. "You can tell that," he said.
"She told how she had no word from you, nothing in a long time, since before you all crossed the river — where was it?"
"Florence, in Alabama."
Gawain lifted his hands, a helpless gesture. "I wrote her. After Nashville I wrote her, and down in Alabama."
"She had no word from you," said the woman again.
Gawain tried to remember what he had written. He could see himself sitting in the firelight, could see the page and the pencil moving. That was all.
"I think you ought to be ready," said the cousin's wife, touching his arm again. "She don't even know if you're alive."
"Good God," said Gawain.
They were quiet for a while. At last Gawain said, "Tell about the burning."
The old mother rocked forward, stabbing her pipe stem at the darkness. "Hatch!" she croaked.
"Beg pardon?" said Gawain.
"'Twas that General Hatch, the cav'ry man, that done it. You ever hear tell of that General?"
"No, ma'am," said Gawain. "Was he a bad man?"
"Oh, a holy terror he was," said the old woman. "He chased the rebels clean out of town — we seen em come right by here, that damn peckerwood horse cav'ry, flailin the pitiful things they was aridin — I says to em, Where you think you goin? They holler, Gone to Texas, Granmaw!"
"My, how they flew!" said the oldest boy, the one who was wearing shoes now. "They horses was bony, all right."
"Hah!" said the old woman. "You couldn't of made a decent stew out the whole lot. Anyhow, they run off, and old Hatch turned his soldiers loose on the town — and a good many of em was these nigger soldiers, don't you know, all aflame with strong drink that he give em. They might near burnt ever goddamn thing."
"Now, Mama," said the cousin's wife.
"Rena Brown, don't tell me!" snorted the old woman. "And that General, they said he taken a armchair out the hotel and set right there and smoked a seegar the whole time."
"Well, I don't doubt it," said Gawain, though he did.
"Tell about the church, Granmaw," said the boy.
The old woman waved her arms. "Lord!" she said.
"Them yankees!" said the boy.
"What?" said Gawain.
"Why, that man told his soldiers to keep they horses right up in the Presbyterian church — had em right up in there, brought in forage and everything — and taken the organ pipes out and th'owed em in the street!"
"Who told you that?" asked Gawain.
"Why, lots of people. He kept em right up in there —"
"Was that before they burned the church, or after?" "Well, they never burnt the church, goddammit," said the old woman. "Mama!" said the wife.
"How'd they get em up the steps?" asked Gawain. "There is fourteen steps up to the front door of the Presbyterian church!"
"Well, I don't know — but they done it. They was all likkered up is how, I guess. It was them niggers."
"Well," said Gawain, and let it go. He had learned long since that the citizens could only be satisfied if the yankees who marauded them were aflame with strong drink, and perhaps it was just as well. How could anyone explain to them the random violence of a burning, or the joy that great acts of destruction brought to the soul? When a soldier, Gawain himself knew the exhilaration of torching a house, of watching the flames rise to his bidding, and in those moments (so frightening because they were so rational) he would gladly have burned buildings, towns, cities, whole civilizations — would have laid waste the earth with flames and artillery if he could. Such knowledge was not for the citizens — let them believe that only liquor brought ruin down on their heads.
But damn that business of horses in church! Gawain had heard that told in other towns time and time again, and it always irritated him. It seemed to Gawain that any intelligent person would be hard-pressed to imagine a more impractical place to keep horses than in a church, yet the citizens insisted that the yankees always kept them there. He had never heard of any Confederate cavalry keeping their horses in a church. But Gawain did not argue with the old woman. Horses in the Temple seemed to be a matter of theology with the citizens, so let them believe what they wanted, let them tell their tales, let them make whatever sense of it they could. Good God, let them hang their harps upon the willows and make their songs.
He looked again over the yard, into the thick, twinkling darkness of the summer night. Tomorrow he would see for himself. Tomorrow he would find Morgan. He tried to picture their meeting, tried to fashion it against the dark loom of the trees, out of the stars scattered in the infinite sky. But he couldn't. It's all right, he thought. I am too tired now. Tomorrow is soon enough.
"It ain't only the yankees that have played hell," said the wife suddenly. The bitter tone of her voice made Gawain look at her closely in the shadow of the porch.
"How do you mean?" he asked.
She took a long time answering. He could see her staring out into the yard, collecting her thoughts and arranging the pictures in her mind. Then she said, "When was the last letter you got from Morgan?"
He thought a moment. "Oh, way last June, I reckon. A long time."
"Did she tell about Lily?"
A dark thing moved across Gawain's heart, like a cloud covering the moon. Lily was the oldest girl, married to the circuit clerk, a man Gawain had never liked. Simon Landers was a vocal Unionist; the old Judge had disowned him and caused him to lose his position for it. But the man's politics were not the source of Gawain's dislike. He was small, petty, not worthy of Lily Rhea, though she clung to him fiercely. They had a boy, Gawain remembered. "No," he said at last. "No, she didn't."
The cousin's wife sighed, shook her head. "We had hard times out here in the country. There was some local men — rangers, they called themselves, though they were nothin but common peckerwoods too cowardly to go to the army —"
"That Simon Landers deserved hangin, the way he treated Lily," said the grandmother.
"Hush, Mama," said the wife. "I was comin to that."
"Oh, my God," said Gawain, rocking back in his chair.
"Yes, they hanged him," said the wife. "They burned the house, and ... and they killed Lily in the yard." Her voice caught then. "Hard times, Gawain. She never hurt a fly."
Gawain rubbed his eyes. "How you know who it was?"
"Oh," she said. "I am told they left a paper pinned to Simon's shirt sayin what all they hanged him for. Treason, it said."
"Treason," said Gawain. "Damn."
"Never did find that boy of theirs," said the old woman. "Been a year now — hogs got him, I reckon."
"Mama!" said the wife. "Still, it's true. God keep him. So that was Lily, Gawain. Best you should know."
"Of course," said Gawain. "Who was their leader?"
"Man named King Solomon Gault, a big planter down in the Leaf River bottoms. He signed the paper, what I'm told."
"I have heard of him. Is he still around?"
The woman laughed bitterly. "Oh, yes. The rangers was whipped in a big fight up on the Tallahatchie in August, some of em was hanged. That's when Gault went to smugglin. He is the richest man around, I should say. You can't touch him. Still, it's a wonder the Judge ain't killed him."
"Maybe he will yet," said Gawain.
"Somebody will," said the woman.
The news about Lily Rhea Landers seemed to wear out their talk. In a little while, the young ones went off to bed, and the grown folks soon after. Gawain had not slept under a roof in a long while; he asked to sleep on the porch where he could see the road and the light of the stars. The wife brought him an armload of quilts.
"'Tis cool enough," she said. "Maybe the bugs won't eat you alive. I wouldn't mind if you slept inside."
"I'll be all right," said Gawain. "I am obliged to you."
They stood shyly for a moment, facing one another across the pallet she had made on the rough boards of the porch. Out in the fields, a whippoorwill was calling, and a mockingbird perched high on the rooftree sang his melancholy nocturne. The liquid notes floated across the night, clear and sad.
"So much bad news, but I am glad you've come home anyway, Gawain Harper," said the wife at last. "So many haven't."
Excerpted from "The Year of Jubilo"
Copyright © 2000 Howard Bahr.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPART 1: The Soldier in the Wood,
PART 2: Long Remember,
PART 3: The Citadel,
PART 4: Deo Vindice,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bahr has set the standard for the Civil War novel. This one, set in the period immediately after the war, is touching, personal and almost mystical in its approach. The language is exquisite and the characters are vivid. I read The Black Flower and was so blown away, I had to read this one. Quite frankly, I think Bahr's work is superior to Cold Mountain or any other CW novel I have read. Having attempted my own CW novel, Scarecrow in Gray, I can tell you that it is no easy task, though Bahr makes it look so. I cannot recommend this book or The Black Flower any more highly. They are works of art and deserving of much more attention than they have received.
Part Civil War novel and part Wild West tale, The Year of Jubilo follows the adventures of Gawain Harper, a Confederate veteran who upon returning home becomes involved in a town battle of deadly consequences. Gawain reluctantly joined the Confederate Army after the father of his beloved, Morgan Rhea, told Gawain that if he wants to marry Morgan, he must fight in the war. Throughout the war, Gawain learns to accept his soldier life, and after three years of hard battle, he returns home to marry Morgan.However, Morgan's father has another demand for Gawain before he will accept his proposal: Gawain must kill the powerful King Solomon Gault, a former Confederate officer who killed Morgan's sister.The Year of Jubilo then progresses into a tale reminiscent of the Old West (at times, I felt like I was watching the HBO show Deadwood). Shoot outs, ambushes, stealing horses and weapons, toothless men, crazy men - you name it, it was in this novel. I enjoyed the characters in this book; many of their conversations were humorous (I even chuckled out loud), and Howard Bahr did a great job attaching this reader to the characters' fates.At the risk of sounding stereotypical, I would characterize The Year of Jubilo as a "man's tale" - full of blood, grit and guts. I am not saying that women can't enjoy this book, but you do have to like the dirtier side of historical fiction to enjoy The Year of Jubilo. (P.S. This would make a great movie!)
Like Frazier (Cold Mountain) and McCaig (Jacob's Ladder) Bahr paints his canvas with detailed brushstrokes that dip beneath the superficial. Certainly there are horrific clashes of weaponry, requisite bloodshed, and such themes as honor and redemption. Yet here the reader gets bonus descriptions of the South's teeming wildlife: the ubiquitous mockingbirds the possums and raccoons and bullbats the fireflies and whippoorwills the redbirds calling FREE-dom the flowers and shrubs of Mississippi's early summer the swifts twittering down to their chimney nests. His eye misses nothing: a dragonfly alighting on a fishing line's bobber leaf shadows gliding like magic lantern slides meadowlarks rising before the advance of horses' hooves a blacksnake swallowing a rat a field mouse's whiskered nose tin pans strung up to scare birds from a corn patch. Even horses and dogs are characters with personalities and names. These touches and much more lift The Year of Jubilo above ordinary literature about the Civil War and its afermath.
Some authors write haunting prose. Some authors write page turners weaving marvelous tales with wonderful characters. Bahr does both exquisitely. The Year of Jubilo reminds one of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom and of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, but Howard Bahr has a style distinctly his own. He evokes such poignant images of the defeated South, as well as the burden of the victorious North, that the reader physically feels the overwhelming sorrow of the days immediately following the end of the Civil War. Yet through the despair runs a thread of redemption which ultimately is made whole cloth. The Year of Jubilo connects with Bahr's previous novel, The Black Flower, through the appearance, albeit as a minor charactor, of Bushrod Carter's father. One hopes that the characters in The Year of Jubilo live on in future Bahr novels.
I wept more than once through this book, full of truth and beauty and horror; but never more than as it ended. I didn't want it to be over, didn't want to hear the last from those very real characters. . . one of those books you live in
A book that once opened is hard to put down. An engaging read from the first page to the last. Filled with some of the most interesting and off-the-wall characters you will ever meet. Gives a vivid portrait of the time just after the Civil War, and of the place, a small town in the South, ravaged by war. Gawain Harper, a literature teacher at a girl's school in Cumberland Mississippi, is shamed by his lady love, Morgan Rhea, into joining the Confederate Army. He survives the war and on his way home in June 1865, he meets Captain Henry Stribling, an unusual man of many talents and past professions. When they reach Gawain's home, things have changed considerably and much of the town has been destroyed. The town is now occupied by Union Troops commanded by a tired Lt. Colonel Burduck with many problems, assisted by his no-nonsense Provost, Captain von Arnim. They are trying to keep the peace and help restore order. Morgan has written of Gawain as long dead and has trouble accepting his return. Her home has been burned and she now lives with a demented cousin along with her once powerful father, Judge Rhea, and her younger brother. While most of the people of Cumberland are struggling to return to normalcy, there is one evil man, the self appointed Captain Soloman Gault, leader of raiders, misfits, and murderers during the war, determined to stir things up and cause as much trouble as possible. Unfortunately, he has many willing accomplices. Gawain's newfound friend Henry Stribling has a talent for sticking a finger in a hornet's nest and stirring things around until something happens. Now that the stage is set, to say anything more would spoil the fun. Get a copy of this book and be prepared to not do anything but read for several hours.
THE YEAR OF JUBILO is truly a remarkable piece of writing. This story of life in a small Mississippi town immediately following the Civil War is filled with adventure, romance, and absolutely beautiful prose. After the success of Bahr's THE BLACK FLOWER, I was hoping that his next work would match it. This one is even more wonderful. I was caught up in the story from the very first page. A masterpiece.
Although he had no passion for the war, former schoolteacher Gawain Harper joined the Confederate cause at the insistence of his future father-in-law, Nathaniel Rhea. The judge demanded that Gawain help the South win the fight or forget any thought of marrying his daughter Morgan. Willing to do almost anything for his beloved, Gawain signed on as an enlisted man and saw battle over the next several years. In 1865, with the war over, Gawain finally returns to his hometown of Cumberland, Mississippi. However, nothing is even remotely the way it once was when he left home. Northern troops seem to be everywhere. Yet the violence that the war¿s aftermath has spawned comes from local sources. His family is dead, murdered due to their northern sympathies. The Rheas own nothing but their pride, which has the Judge demanding a new quest by Gawain if he still wants to marry Morgan. Gawain must assassinate white supremacist, current power mogul and rival ¿King¿ Solomon Gault. THE YEAR OF JUBILO is an extraordinary Civil War drama that deserves critic and reader acclaim as it is sure to be one of the top five historical fictions works of the year. The story line is an exciting insight into Southern chivalry that somehow survived the destruction of the civil War. Gawain lives up to his Arthurian name as a noble individual. The support cast is just incredible. They seem so real the audience will feel they know them. It is the secondary players that make Howard Bahr¿s novel so good that 2000 is the year of jubilee for Civil War buffs. Harriet Klausner