In what is considered the last major battle of the Civil War, Confederate General John Bell Hood was defeated due to poorly laid out battle strategies and harsh weather conditions which worked to the advantage of the opposing army. Under his command, thousands of brave men lost their lives. General Hood himself did not leave the war unscathed; the loss of his left arm and his right leg were a bitter reminder of his failures. To defend his reputation, John Bell Hood wrote a memoir, which was published posthumously in 1880.
A Separate Country by Robert Hicks is a fictional account of John Bell Hood’s life in New Orleans. Written as a memoir, the chapters rotate between three narrators: John Bell Hood; Anna Marie, Hood’s wife; and Eli Griffin, a man deeply affected by Hood’s actions in the Civil War. At the start of the novel, Hood pleads with Griffin to obtain his memoir from the publisher and destroy it. In its place, he would like the papers he entrusts to Griffin to be published instead. Eli’s narrative revolves around his reactions to the new memoirs and his conflict with separating General Hood from the man he has now come to know and respect.
Anna Marie’s narrative recounts her romance with the fallen General and her life raising his children. Additionally, Anna Marie’s history also shows the darker side of New Orleans, and the prejudices between different races and positions in society.
Though History was one of my favorite subjects in school, I remember little of the Civil War, the events which led up to it, and most importantly for the sake of reading A Separate Country, General John Bell Hood. In briefly studying the Civil War after reading this novel, I can safely say that I would have enjoyed this novel even less had I known actual historical facts beforehand. The idea of a secretive memoir, which shows a softer and more humbled vision of General John Bell, is a promising subject for a novel, and one of the main reasons I was interested in reading it.
Although I enjoyed the narratives of John Bell Hood and Eli Griffin, I was less interested in Anna Marie and the cast of secondary characters she brought into the story. Had A Separate Country focused more on Hood and Griffin and their conflicts with one another, I feel it would have been a better novel. While I appreciated the different characters’ perspectives on this colorful time in history, the writing style and “voice” of the characters were too similar for my taste. Griffin, who is a common working man, does not speak as one. His journals possess the same poetic style as Anna’s and Hood’s, the only difference being the grammatical error of confusing “weren’t” with “wasn’t”. To its credit, A Separate Country is highly accessible to those with little knowledge of the history of the South.
For more information, please visit Robert Hicks’ website.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.