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Varina: A Novel (Hardcover)

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In his new novel, Charles Frazier revisits a familiar subject – the Civil War.  He follows the story of one of the hidden characters of the conflict, Varina Howell Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy.  Married at a young age to the much-older Davis, Varina follows him through his political rise and fall, placed at the center of what would become a devastatingly painful time in American history.

The novel opens in 1906 Saratoga Springs, where an older, widowed Varina is visited by James, an African American man she had taken in as a child.  She travels through her past with James, recounting their flight through the south at the end of the war, being kept under house arrest as an enemy of the Union, and the deaths, one by one, of five of her children.  She is a strong, determined woman whose life was driven by the ambitions of her husband. 

Frazier brings the war-torn south to life, just as he did in Cold Mountain.  He beautifully evokes the heartbreak and hopelessness of the crumbling Old South, a culture of beauty and gentility that was built on the backs of others.  There are no righteous victors, no malevolent losers here.  Varina is a poignant and engrossing look at the moral questions of a conflicted time and a woman caught between the past and the future.   — Libby Stowell

— Libby Stowell

April 2018 Indie Next List

“In the elegant and compelling prose that made Cold Mountain an award-winning bestseller, Charles Frazier brings to life Varina Howell Davis, the wife of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Varina is told in two voices: Varina's and Jimmie Limber's, the black boy she raises as a son and is forced to abandon as she and her children flee Richmond while the Confederacy crumbles. When Jimmie and Varina reunite years later and relive the cataclysmic events of the war years, they examine the morality and consequences of Varina's - and a nation's - choices. As great literature often does, this novel forced me to look at my own actions and attitudes with a more critical eye.”
— Sarah Goddin, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC


Sooner or later, history asks, which side were you on?

In his powerful new novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War

Her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects the secure life of a Mississippi landowner. Davis 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 book is a portrait of a woman who comes to realize that complicity carries consequences.


Praise For…

“Frazier’s interjection of historical detail is richly informative, and his descriptions of the natural world of the South are lyrical . . . A sharp, evocative novel.”

Varina portrays a prescient, conflicted heroine. . . Slyly paced . . . When [Frazier] is at full-throttle, incredible declarations are tossed off as mere jottings.”

“No writer today crafts more exquisite sentences than Charles Frazier.”

“Frazier works on an epic scale, but his genius is in the details--he has a scholar’s command of the physical realities of early America and a novelist’s gift for bringing them to life.”

“Charles Frazier’s feeling for the Southern landscape is reverential and beautifully composed.”

“Reading a Frazier novel is like listening to a fine symphony. He’s a maestro whose pen is his baton, beckoning the best that each sentence has to offer.”

“An incredibly gifted storyteller.”

“A master of landscape and language, both often fresh and surprising in his telling.”

“There are things so masterful words can’t do them justice. Frazier’s writing falls in that category.”

“One of our very best writers.”

“Frazier...uses his Faulkner-like complex sentences to good effect...The book creates genuine tension.”

Varina showcases historical fiction at its finest: emotive and explanatory. It displays Frazier’s immense talent and bountiful creativity. And it earns its place among the finest Civil War novels of any era as it chronicles damaged lives and a deservedly lost cause.”

“Perfectly evocative . . . A finely wrought novel that will reward rereading. Elegiac without being exculpatory, it is an indictment of complicity without ignoring the historic complexity of the great evil at the core of American history.”

“A fascinating, little-known story of a tragic yet resilient and contemplative life...A book well worth reading.”

“A splendid historical novel just right for our time.”

“Gentle but affecting.”

“I believe this is Frazier’s best novel . . . It achieves classic status partly because of its extra, timely impact — bringing a humanist view to participants in the Civil War.”

“[A] trim masterpiece of a Civil War novel.”

“Beautifully rendered…Frazier in this, his fourth novel, lyrically resurrects the blasted but hauntingly beautiful Southern landscape just after the war...Varina Davis becomes a marvelously fallible character, complicated enough to stand on her compromised own.”

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062405982
ISBN-10: 0062405985
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Pages: 368
Language: English

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by Dr. Radut