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Confederates
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on 5 December 2017
Worth reading but a little slow.
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on 19 July 2017
Interesting read even if not a history fan
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on 12 January 2018
Disappointing account of the civil war. Too much irrelevant detail
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on 22 March 2004
Keneally uses the high point of the Southern Confederacy as the setting for this brilliant historical novel. Reaching through the ranks, he selects a Shenandoah Valley private and his mates - "confederates" - to reveal the horrors of war with vivid reality. Usaph Bumpass moves with Stonewall Jackson's Virginians through the Valley and into the first Confederate invasion of the North. Through it all Usaph carries concerns about his "swamp tramp" Ephaphtha living at the edge of the combat area. Her loyalty, her past, her well-being, all intrude on his thoughts while he's trying to survive. Never once, however, does he question why he's in the war. The Confederacy is a miasma of conflicting values. Even natives of the South have uncertain views of what precisely is the "cause" they're fighting for. Keneally ably presents us with these variations of philosophy and the people holding them.
Equally fluent in passion or pathos, Keneally's describes battles, intrigues and romance conveyed with powerful reality. With a solid research foundation, he fashions images of people and events with superb clarity. From domestic struggles to the clash of battles, we share every emotional upheaval. Keneally portrays the intensity of war with an surprising clarity as it cuts off friend and foe alike. For a man who once trained for the priesthood, he places the reader alongside his people with deceptive ease. A master at conveying people and environment, he deserves full recognition for his talents. This book will remain a classic of Civil War literature. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 October 2003
Unlike War and Peace, Confederates spurns all romanticism, employing instead the dignity of ordinary men and women and the mundane details of real life to convey the horrors of warfare with a realism perhaps unmatched in American Civil War literature. With no comic relief, no hints at happy endings, and no escape from the inevitability of this nightmare, the cumulative effect of Keneally's novel is staggering.
The Confederate army we meet here consists of ragged and hungry teachers, musicians, small farmers, orphaned children, men in their 60's, conscripts, and even the sorely ill and walking wounded, who share their stories and simple dreams as they trudge resignedly and painfully across Virginia toward their destiny-the Battle of Harper's Ferry/Antietam. Despite the tactical brilliance of General Tom "Stonewall" Jackson, the battle itself eventuates in the most horrific blood-letting and soul-wrenching trauma I've ever seen described. Homely details, described in a plain, almost offhanded manner, lend great irony and bring the enormity of the carnage into focus: split-rail fences with their "crops of dead," cornfields with human remnants "lying in heaps that must be climbed," young soldiers forced to tread on "a mat of Christian boys," and the very air above the cornfield "flying with bits of the corn crop and with limbs, naked and clothed, and with haversacks and heads and hands."
I cannot imagine any Civil War novel which will affect the reader more profoundly than this one. Exhaustively researched, historically accurate, brilliantly depicted, and absolutely unforgettable, it pulses with the life and echoes with the sacrifices of death. Mary Whipple
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on 27 January 2008
This is one of my all time favorite books. It's years since I read it but it still sits in my imagination. So many memorable passages and one of the best battle scenes I've read. Should be in a list of "great books you have never read" as most people don't seem to have heard of it.
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on 11 March 2013
This book clearly falls into the "war fiction" category, but it will appeal to anyone who enjoys good literature, good narrative and some interesting historical settings and characters. If we should discuss a sub-genre, it is a "literary war novel". Although much of the story takes place within a group of veteran soldiers of the Shenandoah Volunteers - fighting under Stonewall Jackson on the Confederate side in the American Civil War, you are also introduced to an English aristocrat working as a war correspondent, an American woman working to improve conditions in hospitals, a young woman who is the wife of one of the soldiers - so there is plenty of space outside of the confines of the war itself. The characters, fictional and historical, are presented with skill and it is in the small details as well as in the broader historical perspective that the novel works. I loved it, and didn't want it to end. If I must make a criticism, I would say that I was not as deeply moved as I was reading, for example, Life and Fate by Grossman (set in the Second World War). I thoroughly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys good fiction, and particularly to those who enjoy thoughtful historical fiction.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 July 2014
American Civil War photographs taken by Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner, George Barnard and Timothy O’Sullivan on the Union side and George S. Cook and Robert M. Smith of the Confederacy show the living and the dead, the appalling destruction and the enthusiasm of the combatants, many little more than children. This novel, I should call it a great novel, by the Australian Thomas Keneally is the literary equivalent of these visual records.

Some time ago I enjoyed the very readable histories of this war by Bruce Catton, 1899-1978, one of the books that the author cites as key sources, but I would not consider myself an expert. The book is somewhat intimidating, over 400 pages of rather small text and, before long, the reader is bombarded by lieutenants, generals, foot soldiers and cavalry, and, of course, surgeons. Thankfully, there is a very helpful map of Virginia in 1862 that shows the key sites, from Williamsburg and Yorktown, Lynchburg and Appomatix, to Harper’s Ferry, Annapolis and Manassas.

However, very soon Keneally has the reader gripped, shifting his focus from battles and skirmishes [the air ‘flying with bits of the corn crop and with limbs, naked and clothed, and with haversacks and heads and hands.’], to its origins and the external and – more importantly – the internal emotions of his characters. As an Australian, the author has an emotional detachment to the events of the war that helps him to describe complex, shifting and, frequently, chaotic events. It is something of a challenge for the reader to recall some of the peripheral characters that reappear after many pages. However, such is the author’s ability to sketch a three-dimension character that this happens surprisingly rarely.

Death [instantaneous and lingering], injury [fatal, severe and minor] and the consequent surgical butchery permeate this book might put some readers off. I hope that it does not. There are descriptions of unwise military manouevres, poor field communications, commanders ignoring orders and posturing and strutting – all that we recognise from the Great War.

There are also the valiant efforts of individual soldiers, their shared camaraderie, their fears in the face of the enemy and their fragmented memories of life before the war. Keneally portrays the organisational and personal relationships between the military and the civilian population whose land and possessions they strip, and the the morality of a just war that many strive to maintain. He introduces a compelling spy drama as well as the family relationships of key combatants through which themes of jealousy and doubt are played out.

Military equipment is forfeited by retreating soldiers and captured by the opposition before there is a reversal in fortunes and some of this materiel is recovered. There are heartrending descriptions of wounded soldiers left behind to die or be captured, of others deserting or crossing the battle lines, and of horses being blown apart. Many of the young soldiers were from farming backgrounds and their closest relationships were with these animals. Keneally shows the serendipity of the battlefield, killing off characters that we have come to know very well in the course of the novel. He focuses on the individual soldier’s constant diarrhea and dysentery, and the mass disposal of amputated limbs

In a truly masterly fashion, Keneally describes the overall military ebb and flow, the desperate hope for reinforcements, the over- and under-estimations of the opposing forces and their consequences, and the overriding military strategies and religious and social beliefs that are at play and divide those favouring union and secession.

This is undoubtedly one of the great war novels but through its well-developed list of characters it addresses human relationships between people under great stress and the ways in which they attempt to get through the atrocities they face, by drinking, thinking of what they will do when the violence ends or through their religious faith.

The ordinary combatants rarely receive proper burials, being dumped into mass graves or just decomposing on the battlefields after the fighting had moved on [cornfields with human remains ‘lying in heaps that must be climbed’]. A few were buried by their friends who vowed to return after the war to show the family of the dead where their loved one was lying.

This is a truly magnificent book that bears comparison with Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’.
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on 25 June 1999
Thomas Keneally is one of those rare authors who seems to be able to go to almost any point in history and feel at home there. In Blood Red, Sister Rose he brought fifteenth-century France alive in what was almost a contemporary screenplay. In Confederates he writes about the horrors of war (the American Civil war) with such poetic intensity that the reader can almost smell the gunpowder and hear the screams. This is just one of Keneally's books which should have won the Booker Prize (I mean, for goodness sake, Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald won it that year!) and will surely be recognised one day as the masterpiece it is.
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on 16 August 2000
Keneally makes you feel part of the action, he outlines the grimness of life as a civil war soldier without the bravado and pomp associated with other war novels. He doesn't hold back and lets you squirm with the characters as the winter, filth and intensity of war takes over their lives. It's a wonderful history novel and as always you come away with a greater knowledge than when you began. Keneally is addictive.
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