Book Review: A Separate Country

A Separate Country

Robert Hicks

Grand Central Publishing

419 pages

A Separate Country is the fictionalized account of General John Bell Hood’s life in the years following his stint as a confederate general in the Civil War.  To give you some backround, General Hood lived from 1831-1879.  According to Wikipedia,

Hood had a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on recklessness. Arguably one of the best brigade and division commanders in the Confederate States Army, Hood became increasingly ineffective as he was promoted to lead larger, independent commands late in the war, and his career was marred by his decisive defeats leading an army in the Atlanta Campaign and the Franklin-Nashville Campaign.

In A Separate Country, Hood has the reputation of being a brazen warmonger who thinks nothing of putting his men in deadly situations so long as he himself looks to be a brave and ruthless general.  However, after the war Hood’s reputation has gone downhill and he is forced to face his own judgments.  The remorse and shame Hood is imprisoned with is evident to the reader, although the other characters in the story are fairly oblivious to it.

The story takes place in New Orleans, where Hood migrated to after the war in the hopes of finding anonymity.  I am a sucker for New Orleans and thus often find myself drawn to fiction that features this rich city.  In this sense, Hicks did not let me down.  From what little I know about the city at the time this book takes place, I think Hicks stayed true to the essence and spirirt of New Orleans and was able to convey it through this book.

The format of A Separate Country is innovative in that it is almost all told through the separate journals of Anna Marie Hennon Hood and John Bell Hood.  The two have been married for ten years and have born eleven children from their union.  At the opening of the story,  General Hood is on his death bed as a result of “yellow jack” and Anna Marie had passed on some months before.  General Hood’s last act is to pass his journal onto another character, Eli Griffin, who fought in the Civil War and was affected by General Hood’s actions during the war.  Although most of the book is excerpts from the journals of Anna Marie and John, there are also a few portions that are Eli’s interpretations and reactions towards what he is reading as he becomes acquainted with the journals.

Although I can’t quite put my finger on why, I did not feel any sort of connection to Eli Griffin.  I thought as a character he was poorly executed and brought the book down as a whole.  I think Hicks’ method of having a narrator who was able to convey John and Anna’s stories separately was much needed, but in developing Eli, Hicks fell short.

I have read quite a few lukewarm reviews on this book.  I would have to say I agree with those reviews in a sense.  I enjoyed this book, but there was so much potential that wasn’t met.  To have a back drop of the Civil War and the yellow jack infested New Orleans, it shouldn’t have taken much to capture my attention.  Don’t get me wrong–I enjoyed A Separate Country and I am glad I read it, but it definitely did not go above and beyond.

Other reviews:

Bermuda Onion’s Weblog

Joyfully Retired

5 Minutes for Books

Medieval Bookworm

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5 Responses

  1. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this as much as I did. I haven’t read The Widow of the South, but it’s my understanding that Eli Griffin first appeared in that book. Thanks for linking to my review.

    • Ah, ok. Thanks for mentioning that Kathy–it definitely makes a little more sense if Eli Griffin was in The Widow of the South. My mom really enjoyed that book, and I have a copy of it on my shelves, so I am excited to read it!

  2. Dang! I was raised on the Civil War and I was so hoping that this one would be something I would enjoy.

  3. I just can’t get excited by this one…probably because the Civil War bores me (and me a history major…for shame!). Actually, it’s not just the Civil War…most war history bores me.

  4. I was very lukewarm on this book. You seem to have liked it better than me, though, so I hope you do read and enjoy The Widow of the South more!

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