Book Review: Devil’s Dream: A Novel About Nathan Bedford Forrest
Publication Date: Nov 03, 2009
List Price: $26.95
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Imprint: Pantheon Books
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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Book Reviewed by Thumper
It is safe to say, I began this book in complete and
total ignorance. I had not read any of Madison Smartt Bell's previous
novels, even though I had his novel All Souls' Rising lying around my house
for years. I am no longer ignorant because I read Bell's latest novel,
Devil's Dream: A Novel about Nathan Bedford Forrest and I have nothing but
love for Bell and am in total awe of Nathan Bedford Forrest. What an
incredible, amazing novel!
In Devil's Dream, Bell turns his considerable talents to the Civil War's Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. I was not familiar with Forrest before I read the book. I only started the book because I was intrigued by its summary of a man of contradictions: Forrest loves his white wife, Mary Anne, and yet has a great passion for his black slave mistress, Catharine. Although he fought for the wrong side in the Civil War that wanted to keep African Americans enslaved and he was a former slave trader, after the Civil War Forrest became a voice speaking out for equality and Civil Rights for the former slaves. The novel only covered the years of Forrest's life before and during the war. After reading Devil's Dream, I have come to like Nathan Bedford Forrest a lot. Devil's Dream is an incredible novel and could easily get me hooked on Bell's writing.
Nathan Bedford Forrest is the star of the book…barely; the character named Henri gives Forrest a run for the money. The novel is narrated by Henri, a Haitian spirit who came to America to recruit men for a planned revolution in Haiti and found itself in the middle of the American Civil War. Henri encounters General Forrest when Forrest is in route to a battle. As Henri tells his story, Forrest emerges as a man of constantly fighting great battles: the one between his women; his sons; his family; and societal expectations, only to emerge as a man who was unafraid to stand alone.
I had no idea, when I got the book, what I had gotten myself into. I was initially pissed that I had subjected myself to read a novel about a freaking Confederate. Although, I love southern literature, southern food, and admittedly have a non-comprehensible attachment to Gone with the Wind; I'm not a fan of the South, its Confederate Army and government, its ingrained racism or its death grip unwillingness to accept the fact that the South LOST the war! The fools need to take some of that Obama stimulus money and build a bridge in order to GET OVER IT! The last thing I wanted to do was read a book, any book that glorified the South. Imagine MY surprise when I became enamored with the novel and Nathan Bedford Forrest.
It would not have happened had Bell not created and made Henri the narrator of the novel. Henri is remarkable, for he became not only a wonderful storyteller but an equally as appealing character as Forrest. The one loud persistent question I wanted to ask Henri was why he was fighting for the South, especially after fighting for Haiti's freedom. Bell must have read my mind for I was all ears when one of the white confederate soldiers asked Henri the same question: Henri calmly replied that he was there to kill white men and it did matter which side he was on. *eyebrow raised* How could I not love a character like that?! *LOL*
Devil's Dream is top drawer historical fiction. Bell is not only historically accurate in relaying the battles and intimate facts of Forrest's life; Bell is blessed with the true gift of a real storyteller. If more historians possessed the natural ability to fashion history into an absorbing story, we would be a better educated society. Bell made a believer out of me. When I got through reading Devil's Dream I started looking for my copy of All Souls' Rising, blew the dust off of it and put it back into my To-Read pile, and then went and bought the other two installment of Bell's Haiti trilogy. While it is strange for me to say, and trust me, I never thought I would EVER recommend a book about a confederate general; I highly recommend Devil's Dream.