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Nicole Marie Sorkin

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Featured Book
Eighteen Wheels and Jesus
by Jerry Hulse

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Father and Son at War, by author Isabel Vandervelde
Wednesday, January 18, 2012  1:49:00 PM

by Nicole Marie Sorkin



History
Father and Son at War, by author Isabel Vandervelde, paints an intricate picture of the Civil War by highlighting the relationship between a mulatto man named Malcolm Balfour and his white father, General Malcolm Balfour.

Father and Son at War, by author Isabel Vandervelde, paints an intricate picture of the Civil War by highlighting the relationship between a mulatto man named Malcolm Balfour and his white father, General Malcolm Balfour.  His mother doesn’t tell him the General is his father, but he learns of this when Malcolm overhears a conversation between the General and his mother.  The General comes to Malcolm’s house to teach him and his siblings how to read and write.  Malcolm grows to love reading, especially books about law. 

In 1860, the General invites Malcolm to go to war with him as his personal aide. He agrees and they fight side by side in the army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee until the end of the war.  He takes care of the General after he gets wounded.  During his recovery, Malcolm meets Rebecca, a part Cherokee girl, and they fall in love.  When he returns home, he is determined to marry her.  One night he took a walk and spotted the General going into Becca’s house; and watched as they made love.  He chooses to “move past this,” because of his deep love both for his father and for Rebecca.  He and Becca marry soon after. 

When the Red Shirts begin attacking the black community, fighting for their right to own slaves, led by the General himself, the General tells Malcolm to move his family out of town to escape with their lives.  Although the General showed kindness to Malcolm throughout the book, and Malcolm accepted his love, in the end only the reader learns (after Malcolm dies) the General took what is rightfully his son’s. He married his son’s wife, Becca.

Vandervelde writes many very intricate details about the war.  The story, in the midst of all of the violence, develops an interesting relationship between the white General and his mulatto son; a relationship which reflects the control the whites had over the blacks during the times prior to and throughout the Civil War.  At the end of the book, Malcolm tells the reader that he wrote this book for his father.  Once Malcolm dies and his father receives the book, the General writes about his surprise at the fact his son saw him making love to Rebecca. “I was amazed reading that,” he writes. However, the next sentence he wrote: “Now, in 1889 when he has died, and I am reading his journal of enigmas, I find that I love his wife, and I have set about inviting her to share my house in Columbia.”  This sentence ties together the very conflict that Malcolm remained blind to.  It showed me as the reader, that throughout Malcolm’s life, the General had pushed and pulled him to do what the General had wanted; ultimately he took two very important things that were rightfully his son’s.  He took Malcolm’s opportunity to fight on “the right side” of the war, and his opportunity to be the one love of Rebecca’s life.

The word “enigma” is introduced early on in the book, when Malcolm asks his father about things that are illegal in South Carolina, such as teaching “a black to read or write,” or “for a white man to marry a black woman, or to free a slave.” “‘Just another enigma,” the General would reply.  Instead of explaining these things to Malcolm, and facing the fact that he would always view himself as better or higher in rank than his son because of his skin color, the General brushes off these questions.   He taught his son to read and write, but never admitted he concurred with the belief of whites being better than blacks. 

Father and Son at War is an interesting book for those who love to read historical fiction.  It is obvious Isabel Vandervelde is a lover of history, as she carefully described the Civil War and provided excellent background information for the storyline in the book.  The historical fiction genre is not an easy one to write, as it requires immense research.  It is apparent Vandervelde has thoroughly researched her topic upon writing this story.  Aside from grammatical errors that continued throughout, this was a very engaging read.  What was most enjoyable for me was the historical background of the novel intertwined with the developing relationship between the white General and his mulatto son.  Both of these elements worked wonderfully together, strengthening one another, and form an excellent collection of personal introspections of the Civil War, revealing thoughts of those who were involved in the struggle for freedom.

Pacific Book Review

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Nicole Marie Sorkin



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