Facing The Loss And Wages Of The Civil War
The Christian Science Monitor Weekly|April 23, 2018

JEFFERSON DAVIS’S WIDOW PONDERS A DEBT SHE FEARS WILL NEVER BE FULLY REPAID.

April Austin

“I’ve come to accept that our debt may stretch to one of those generational Bible curses,” says Varina Davis, the title character in Varina, Charles Frazier’s new novel. The wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis is speaking about the debt her husband owes for lives lost in the Civil War. But she’s also speaking of her own debt, as someone who enjoyed the benefits of a society built on the backs of enslaved people.

Frazier follows to a large degree the historical record of Varina’s life, weaving her actual words into the book’s dialogue along with those from his own imagination. He faced a more difficult task in “Varina” than in “Cold Mountain,” his first novel, in which Inman, the lead character, was not modeled on a real person but inspired by family lore. Varina’s story is more complicated than Inman’s: Instead of trying to forget the war, she feels an obligation to constantly recall the fundamental moral failures that led up to it. “Remembering doesn’t change anything – it will always have happened. But forgetting won’t erase it either,” she says.

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