Friday, December 13, 2013

The Art of War

Last week Ms. Morse, one of our Social Studies teachers, asked if the Library Media Center had room to display some of the class projects that were overtaking her room. Naturally I said yes. She brought them down today and I am a bit awestruck by the scope and creativity of the projects. Her students are finishing their unit on the Civil War and she managed to design a project that enabled students to express their knowledge of the complexities surrounding the causes of the war in a simplified way.

Without further ado, I present Setting the Table For the Civil War.

The kids had key figures sitting at their tables.

They added biographical info and the person's own words.

And a heavy dose of individuality.

I love the juxaposition of formality and manners of a table setting intertwinded with the brutality of the war to come.  

A detailed look at one of the dinner guests.

History was my favorite subject in school and I'm an avid reader of historical fiction. I've always believed that quality historical fiction can bring to life the events and facts of the past in a way most textbooks cannot. With that in mind, I'd like to recommend my top five novels set in or around the Civil War.

1) March by Geraldine Brooks. This is quite simply one of the most beautiful written books I've ever read in terms of language. It's as close to poetry as one can get in a novel and stirs your soul with every sentence. But don't just take my word for it, the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded it their top honor in 2006. The slim novel follows the deployment of Mr. March (yes, the father of the famous March sisters from Little Women) as he faces the harrowing and dangerous realities of war, fear and limitations of racial equality in a world that does not appear as ready for it as he would like to believe. 

2) Widow of the South by Robert Hicks. This is not a story for delicate constitutions. A plantation is taken over as a make-shift field hospital for the Confederates before and after a devastating and distasterous battle against the Union in Tennessee.  Based on a true story, the novel explores the gory (literally) details of medical practices and suffering on the battlefield. I could not put it down.

3) The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus. This a long, yet delightful narrative that follows the marriage and life of a very young women who marries and aged Confederate veteran. The narrative voice is addictive and you will hang on her every word. They made a TV movie out of  it years ago that did the novel justice. 

4) Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The haunting journey of a solider who walks away from the war in order to return to his beloved. I stress the walking part because that is not a fast mode of movement and at times the novel can be slow, but it's well worth your perseverance. Like any good war story there is unspeakable brutality and glimmers of beauty, generosity and bravery that restores your faith in the goodness of men. The movie won Renee Zwelliger an Oscar.

5) Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. No I'm not kidding. If you love the film, treat yourself to the book, they are quite different. What I think GWTW does best is show the reader the utter destruction of the South; its land, its people and its culture. And the love story isn't half bad either considering how flawed Scarlett and Rhett are. I toured the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta a few years ago and saw the very spot she typed the novel. Fun fact- she has an Arizona connection, her cousin was none other than Doc Holiday and it is presumed that Ashely Wilkes was based on him. 

Sadly, there aren't exactly happy endings in stories set around wars but by creating a character a reader can relate to, he can, ever so briefly, step back in time. It's important to know where we've been in order that we don't end up places we don't want to. 

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