4 Stars Out Of 5
An Important and Touching Historical Novel
October 8, 2014
It is one thing to know that war is terrible and quite another to experience it in its various forms of battle, inhumanity, attrition and suffering. In The Sentinels of Andersonville, Tracy Groot takes us back in time to the American Civil War, specifically to Georgia and the infamous Southern prison, Andersonville. From the perspective of both Union and Confederate soldiers, we experience the sights, sounds and even smells of this terrible place. But more than that, we witness the extraordinary heroism of ordinary people in a seemingly hopeless situation.
While this book is ostensibly about Andersonville Prison, it is really about so much moreit is a slice of life during an extremely trying time and a vignette about how people cope with horrible circumstances. We are given a look at the plight of Union prisoners, starving and diseased; we see how the Confederate soldiers assigned to guard these men cope with the things they see every day. We are even allowed a glimpse of the civilian population: many of them when confronted with the atrocities occurring mere miles from their homes want to retreat into ignorance once more.
One of the best things about this novel is that there are no easy answers. Hard choices have to be made and the consequences are literally of life and death significance. Some characters choose action and pay a hefty price for it. Others choose to ignore conditions at the prison and consider those who wont as traitors to the Southern cause and the boys who died defending their way of life. There are very few good or bad characters, but most people are a realistic mix of wanting to do the right thing while fearing what will happen if they speak against the evil within the stockade walls. While the characters are fictional, they are three-dimensional. They fear, overcome fear, are angry, feel bound by duty, despair at helplessness, mourn a lost way of life, and desperately desire a normal existence once more. We dont have cardboard cutouts of people, but on both sides of the conflict are just ordinary people caught in the horrors of war.
There is a lot of hope and faith within these pages, despite the pain. It takes faith to do something in the face of insurmountable suffering, against even your own friends and countrymen, just because it is the right thing to do. And while what these characters are able to accomplish is so very little in light of the enormity of the problem, lemons and sweet potatoes in the face of thousands of starving men, they have done the best they could in the situation they found themselves in.
This is not, however, an easy book to read. There are some descriptions that are painful, that I would like to un-see in my minds eye, but at the same time, this is an important story that needs to be toldand read. The history is invaluable. I appreciated that the novel included several actual excerpts from diaries of survivors as well as those who died within the prison walls before the end of the war. In her note opening the book, Groot tells us that the descriptions she includes are taken from source materials, firmly grounding the novel in historical realism.
This book is an important work of historical fiction and I would recommend it to those interested in the Civil War and in historical fiction in general, though with a word of caution to some who may be disturbed by its more graphic aspects. While the author handles these details with sensitivity and tact, it can still be a heavy topic and one I would caution is for mature audiences from high school on up.
I received a copy of this book from The Book Club Network at bookfun.org in exchange for this honest review.