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Paperback Andersonville Book

ISBN: 0452269563

ISBN13: 9780452269569

Andersonville

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Book Overview

"The greatest of our Civil War novels." The New York Times The 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning story of the Andersonville Fortress and its use as a concentration camp-like prison by the South during the Civil War."

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A richly detailed tapestry

This book is astounding in its scope, detail and depth of characters. The way Kantor spins the intimate lives of so many individuals around the central thread of the Claffey family and the prison... It is simply amazing. I see many of the previous reviews complaining that this was a difficult read. I did not find it so, but the writing IS like thick rye bread or dark heavy beer. You aren't going to be able to plow through 300 pages a night. The writing is saturated with detail and will drift for chapters into recollections or musings of various characters. People who are linear thinkers probably will have trouble with this book, because this is not just a story about Andersonville. It's a giant timeless snapshot of humanity.

Damned Yankees

MacKinlay Kantor won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1955 for his novel "Andersonville", an epic account of the notorious prison camp in Southwest Georgia which operated from February 1864 till the end of the Civil War. An Iowan, Kantor seems to have strived to be impartial, but there are not-always subtle parallels between Andersonville and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. The superintendant of the stockade was Henry Wirz, a Swiss who was educated in Berlin. His heavy accent is emphasized throughout the book; and near the end Kantor has written a haunting scene in which a Union officer arrests Wirz, the latter protesting that he was only following orders. (I'm not revealing plot elements here, it's a matter of historical record: in 1865 Wirz was executed as a war criminal.) The horrors of the prison are contrasted with outside digressions. One digression is the prisoners' memories of happier times in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and in what is called York State. Kantor's aim is to make the prisoners real people, not just faceless statistics. (Indeed, Chapter LIV is a young fifer's full life, from first impression to an out-of-body experience.) Another digression is the existence of residents in the vicinity of the stockade, whose lives are blighted by the neighboring corruption. The most important of these is Ira Claffey, a fictional plantation owner in his fifties, who has lost three sons in the War and whose wife goes mad with grief. (After the fall of Atlanta, Claffey, presuming on a slight acquaintance with Jefferson Davis, attempts to reach Richmond to plead for the cause of the Andersonville inmates, but he is stymied by the looting panic of retreat.) Many readers have commented on Kantor's decision not to use quotation marks. I was slightly disconcerted in the opening pages; but as I became more deeply involved with the book, I found that I had no difficulty discerning which were quotes and whose they were. It also gives the narrative a tougher, more documentary tone, appropriate for such a grim topic. Grim it ineviatably is. There's a skillfully ironic episode in the second half in which a young Rebel veteran discovers a Union escapee. The Southerner has lost a leg, the Yankee a hand, both at Gettysburg, and there's an eerie outside chance that they may have maimed each other. Their relationship and its effect on their lives is symbolic of what's happened to their severed country, and Kantor's artistic story makes Andersonville a microcosm of a disasterous conflict.

The best book I've ever read

This won't be a long review.This is a story about the infamous Andersonville prison of Civil War fame, into which tens of thousands of Northerners were inhumanely confined under obscene conditions. MacKinley Kantor introduces and keeps faithful track of scores of characters, and does each and every one of them full justice. Whether he is illuminating the background of a simple soldier or conveying the daily goings-on of the locals, the way he maintains the unity of this massive narrative is a marvel.The main character, and the moral center of the story, is Ira Claffey, a Southern farmer, slave-owner and philosopher. Though in this day and age most people would argue that a slave-owner cannot be moral, Kantor suggests otherwise. The beauty of Ira's character is that it is capable of accepting and adapting to the great social unheaval the Civil War brought to the South, and we are shown in other characters, most notably his wife Veronica, what happens to those who cannot accept and adapt.Most striking of all is the humanity to be found inside and outside the four walls of the cesspool of disease and despair that Andersonville stockade quickly became. Some passages are almost too heartbreaking to read, and others lift the spirits like a tonic. It may seem contradictory, but there is great beauty in this book about evil, suffering, and death.I can't recommend this book highly enough, or do it any sort of justice in writing a few paragraphs about it. You must read it.

Brilliant and painful.

This is one of the most remarkable books that you will ever experience. It has a reputation as a "tough read," but the effort is more than worth it. You will come to KNOW these characters. The ambience of the story is as superbly rendered as the characterizations, and the "you are there" texture of the book is felt with intensity. There are no quotation marks in the speech, so sometimes it's difficult to tell if the character is talking or if it's internalization. Remarkably, this adds to the power of the book. As a reviewer noted earlier, there's a dream-like quality to the prose that would have been diminished by adding quotes. The author breaks some rules by changing point-of-view, tense, and person, yet it all works so well that it does not detract in any way. You may find yourself drifting away at times; not out of boredom, but because Kantor makes you think about what you've just read. If you have ever lost a friend or family member in a war this story will be painful. It is emotionally charged (excuse the cliche) to the highest possible point. I agree with most readers that "Gone With The Wind" and "The Killer Angels" and "Cold Mountain" are five-star novels, but "Andersonville" is on another level. Thirty stars, perhaps. You'll nevr forget Ira and Lucy and the men (and women) of "Andersonville."

"Historical Fiction" as it ought to be

Before "Killer Angels", before "Cold Mountain", there was MacKinley Cantor's "Andersonville". If you have never read "historical fiction" set in the Civil War period, this should be the first one you read. Do not be intimidated by the size of this book. The first time I picked it up, I was told my father read it by staying up all night, completing it in one sitting. I don't recommend that, but you will NOT want to put this down. The characters are so real, the descriptions of the terrible conditions there so vivid.. Read this book and you will want to grab other books of the same type.
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