There’s something about the words below that resonate with me and remind me, again, how truly awful war is. This is toward the end of John Given’s enlistment in the Union Army and he’s quite close to returning home to Harmony, a greatly changed man, in a greatly changed nation.
……it struck him even more how blasted Decatur was. It was very easy to get tired of looking at nothing except a soldier’s face and, without women, there was singular lack of beauty. And color was missing. Clothes were the sea of uniforms, faded to a vague blue, which the men, in the heat, shed as often as they could. In a place where a normal year would have meant a host of summer flowers everywhere, the ground was unplanted-chewed up and battered by the boots of so many men. There were no blossoms of any color. There was no foliage. There was only the wasted, treeless town and the mud and wood of the fort.
Emily will be checking in periodically so if you want to leave a question for her I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to respond. It’s impossible to pin everyone down to a specific discussion time so just come in and out as time allows over the weekend.
Suite Harmonic is a lovingly crafted narrative of war and family woven from personal written histories, especially from the letters of John Given and his sister Kate. It is essentially a novel of manners interspersed with battle scenes. For those of us who love Civil War stories, as I do, it is satisfying. The main characters, John and Kate, become known to us as they become assimilated, as their Irish Catholicism fades, as they mature, and as they internalize the issues of their time.
That John survives Shiloh is amazing, that he learns that he will keep his head in combat is what gives him resiliency throughout the War. Kate, back home in Indiana, is an interesting study in both duty and stepping out of her “place” as an Irish maid to wealthy Protestants. Both siblings are smart and literate, which is how so much of their material survived.
The eventual love stories, after the War, especially Kate and Harry’s, are truly sweet.
The tragedies of 19th C. health care follow the characters into peace time.
A picky critic might find two anachronisms of speech, but I was not picky and did not catalog them. My own disappointment with the novel was limited to my high expectations for it – I love historical novels. I have been through all of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels twice. Suite Harmonic has no plot. Think of a lifetime series of interconnected events as told through the eyes of two siblings, in which there is no struggle between good and evil, no climax, no anti-climax, and no denouement. John and Kate were surely so likable and admirable as presented by ABC, and the incidents themselves so fascinating in detail and social (or combat) observation, as to allow Suite Harmonic to stand without a plot. I think it does actually present a harmonic suite of the interplay of lives shaped by the Civil War, and by the integration of immigrants into society, and by the daily struggles of people we can still recognize, although their hardships were of a different time. I am sure it does what Emily intended it to do, and that my expectations were irrelevant.