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Varina
Cover of Varina
Varina
A Novel
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In his powerful fourth novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War.With her marriage prospects limited,...
In his powerful fourth novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War.With her marriage prospects limited,...
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  • In his powerful fourth novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War.

    With her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects a life of security as a Mississippi landowner. He instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the white-hot center of one of the darkest moments in American history—culpable regardless of her intentions.

    The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with "bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit."

    Intimate in its detailed observations of one woman's tragic life and epic in its scope and power, Varina is a novel of an American war and its aftermath. Ultimately, the audiobook is a portrait of a woman who comes to realize that complicity carries consequences.

About the Author-

  • Charles Frazier is the author of Cold Mountain, an international bestseller that won the National Book Award and was adapted into an Academy-Award winning film by Anthony Minghella. He is also the author of the bestselling novels Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 19, 2018
    Varina Howell Davis (1826–1906), wife and widow of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, is an inspired choice as heroine for Frazier’s riveting fourth novel (following Nightwoods). “Being on the wrong side of history carries consequences,” he writes, and the events of Varina’s life propel a suspenseful narrative. A quotation from her letters, “my name is a heritage of woe,” is an apt description of the life depicted: Varina, called “V” throughout, is married at 18 to the much older Davis; becomes the mother of six children, only one of whom survives her; flees the collapse of the South as a desperate fugitive with a bounty on her head; and, later, is forced to earn a penurious living as a journalist. She is a flawed but fascinating woman—educated beyond the interests of most southern belles of her time, she is an avid reader of classical literature, fluent in Greek, and possesses a quick intelligence. Frazier alternates V’s chapters with those of James Blake, an orphaned black boy rescued from the streets of Richmond and raised with V’s brood. Frazier’s interjection of historical detail is richly informative, and his descriptions of the natural world of the South are lyrical. While V’s emotional reserve and stoic narration keep her from becoming a fully vibrant character, this is a sharp, evocative novel.

  • AudioFile Magazine In a soft Southern accent, Molly Parker narrates Frazier's recent novel about the life and times of Varina, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Varina describes her life and times in a nonlinear manner, from the 1840s through the early 1900s, through flashbacks and memories. The dialogue flows into the narrative without shifts in tone or accent, making it difficult to differentiate between the two. Shunning false drama, Parker's narration drifts along the days, months, and years of Varina's life on the plantation until her harrowing escape to Florida after the war and then her new life in New York City. Varina's high-strung temperament is cushioned by regular indulgence in laudanum, capably captured in Parker's cadence. M.B.K. � AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine
  • Library Journal

    Starred review from February 15, 2018

    Frazier reprises his Cold Mountain success, this time focusing on a less familiar historical figure from the Civil War: Varina, wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Varina's unconventional opinions and attitudes, contemporaneously perceived as less than fully enthusiastic toward her husband's lost cause, probably accounts for this gap in popular knowledge. Frazier tells her story in the form of an imagined oral memoir, in which she recounts her story to a black man, "Jimmie Limber," whom she rescued from the streets of Richmond, VA, when he was abandoned as a toddler. Focusing on events following Lee's surrender when she and her children fled the Confederate capital, and bouncing between pre- and postwar events, this narrative approach succeeds after a slow start. The unveiling of Varina's sad story piques the reader's curiosity. Much of what Frazier imagines is consistent with the incomplete historical record surrounding Varina, and he fills in the blanks to reveal a powerful personality that, while of her times, has much to say to us today in respect of how the impact of great events on individuals can affect the history of those events. VERDICT Highly recommended for general readers as well as anyone interested in American history. [See Prepub Alert, 10/5/17.]--Vicki Gregory, Sch. of Information, Univ. of South Florida, Tampa

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2018
    A new novel of the Civil War and its aftermath from the author of Cold Mountain (1997, etc.).This novel begins in 1906 in upstate New York, where an elderly woman is staying at an establishment that is part hotel, part hospital. A visitor arrives, and his request for information about his own past takes readers back in time to another world. The visitor is a freed slave named James Blake. The woman is Varina Davis--who, as Jefferson Davis' wife, was once the first lady of the Confederate States of America. As she moves back and forth in her own life story, V recalls scenes from her childhood in Natchez, Mississippi, and her marriage to a widower more than twice her age. After leaving home, she's never settled for long. Her husband's election to the Senate means a move to Washington, D.C., and his ascendancy to the leadership of the Confederacy takes her to Richmond. After the war, she takes cheap rooms in London. Varina is certainly a fascinating figure. She is well-educated, her own political sympathies do not align perfectly with those of her husband, and, after being impoverished by the war, she launches a career as a journalist in New York--writing being one of the only ways for a woman of her station to earn money. Readers who helped to make Frazier's first novel a huge bestseller may cheer his return to the War Between the States. Whether or not his fourth book will earn the author new fans depends largely on whether or not there's a fresh audience for his heavily lyrical--sometimes turgid--style. While there are moments of dry humor--Mrs. Davis is nobody's fool--this reads more like a novel its heroine might have read in the late days of the 19th century than something written in the 21st. The most contemporary touch is the disjointed timeline, but even that isn't entirely effective. The resulting text isn't so much a coherent narrative as a series of vignettes.Intriguing subject. Uneven execution.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    March 1, 2018
    What legacy befalls those who find themselves on history's wrong side? Frazier's (Nightwoods, 2011) fourth Southern historical novel centers on Varina Howell Davis, the unlikely first lady of the doomed Confederacy. Its nonlinear structure roams across her tragic life's vast landscape, from girlhood as an impoverished Mississippi planter's well-educated daughter to strained marriage to the much-older Jefferson Davis to old age in a Saratoga Springs rest home. There, regular visits from James Blake, an African American man she'd taken in as a child, prompt her recollections. Frazier crafts haunting scenes of her and her children's flight from Richmond via wagon through the devastated South and her morphine-hazed, funereal view of her husband's rain-soaked inauguration. Intelligent, outspoken, and clear-sighted but yoked to an intransigent man, the real Varina (who is called V throughout) sometimes feels elusive. One wonders what she could have become under different circumstances. In her conversations with James, she proclaims the right side won yet seems unable to fully grasp slavery's ramifications. This powerful realization of its time also has significant meaning for ours. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Starting with the international best-seller Cold Mountain (1997), Frazier's novels, and his newest will be energetically publicized, draw a large readership.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)

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