WHITE DOVES AT MORNING by JAMES LEE BURKE.
Set in Louisiana and spanning the years 1861-1868, this passionate novel of men, women and war tells the story of the author's ancestor. Confederate soldier William Burke. A classic Burke hero, innately moral to the point of lunacy, Willie is soon in conflict with his superiors. As his best friend Jim Stubblefield observes: 'the juncture of William Burke and the Confederate Army is akin to the meeting of a wrecking ball and a crystal shop.'
The characters who people these pages, many of them based on real historical figures are as memorable as any Burke has created. Mulatto, Flower Jamison is a victim of terrible abuse, but determined to better herself; Quaker abolitionist Abigail Dowling's Unionist sympathies put her in constant danger; Colonel Ira Jamison is rotten to his core yet would rise from a cesspit smelling of roses; these and many others stay powerfully in the mind in this epic tale. Like all the best war novels, WHITE DOVES AT MORNING concentrates not on battles but on the edges of grand events, the detritus that wars create, the human cost, and, in this case, the terrible aftermath.
...... Inner front cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Chapter 1): The black woman's name was Sarie, and when she crashed out the door of the cabin at the end of the slave quarters into the fading winter light, her lower belly bursting with the child that had already broken her water, the aftermath of the ice storm and the sheer desolate sweep of leaf-bare timber and frozen cotton acreage and frost-limned cane stalks seemed to combine and strike her face like a braided whip.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 138): A local physician, untrained as a surgeon, created an operating table by propping a door across two pews, then sawed limbs off men as though he were pruning trees. After each patient was carried away, he threw a bucket of water on the table and began on the next.
MY THOUGHTS: Hmm, a hit but mainly a miss of a read as far as I'm concerned as whilst I admired the authors willingness to examine the issues surrounding race at that time and thought his descriptions of battle second to none, his characters (especially his portrayal of women) powerful if not a little improbable and, I suspect, often grossly romanticised, I felt that this was a novel gravely let down by lack of emotion.
Undoubtedly full of historical depth, White Doves At Morning is a harrowing story of war and slavery as seen through the eyes of a mix of characters both black and white, slave owner and slave, many of whom are based on actual characters - two of them I believe being relatives of the author - and yet lacking in any real emotional depth as it did I found myself unable to commit to any of them.
My main problem with this read though? Rightly or wrongly all throughout I couldn't help but get the feeling that this wasn't written just as a novel but was written with the thoughts of a movie deal in mind.
KEEP IT OR NOT?: Ex-library stock, I won't be keeping this one.