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Varina: A Novel
by Charles Frazier

Published: 2018-04-03
Hardcover : 368 pages
9 members reading this now
37 clubs reading this now
2 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 3 members

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 ...

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Introduction

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.

 

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of April 2018: The author of Cold Mountain returns to the American Civil War and imagines the life of Varina Howell, who married a Mississippi landowner with dreams of living a quiet, comfortable life. Fate had other plans, however, as her husband would later become the president of the Confederacy. Unlike Jefferson Davis, Howell had mixed feelings about the war and slavery, a struggle Frazier uses to explore the roots of racism. The novel is at once profound and propulsive, especially as it describes her flight from Richmond, children in tow, Union soldiers on their heels...But no sooner do you sympathize with Howell does she betray her own deep-seated prejudices, ones she will eventually question and try to atone for (to a certain degree). Varina is a fascinating portrait of a complicated woman--one that holds a mirror up to our own time and asks: Do you like what you see? --Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

1. How would you describe Varina Davis? Talk about her upbringing and consider the passage below: Does it ring true?

At sixteen—other than overwhelming scorn and rage—what power do you control? For the pimply boys V knew, it was guns and their prospects for inheritance. Girls had their bodies and minds. That age, you make choices and don’t always know you’re making them.

2. Comparisons have been made with Varina to Gone With the Wind, in terms of the stories themselves and especially the two heroines. Do you see similarities?

3. Consider this next passage regarding V's feelings toward slavery:

V has never made any claim of personal high ground. She grew up where and when she did. From earliest memory, owning other people was a given. But she began feeling the strangeness of it about nine or ten—not the wrongness or the sin of it, but the strangeness only.

In what way did slavery begin to feel strange to V?

4. Next, consider this passage:

[B]eing on the wrong side of history carries consequences. V lives that truth every day. If you’ve done terrible things, lived a terribly way, profited from pain in the face of history’s power to judge, then guilt and loss accrue.

In what way does V live the truth? And what is the "truth"—as she understands it? Has her understanding changed over the years?

5. How would you describe V's marriage with Jefferson Davis? Take into account the considerable age gap, as well as their differing personalities and beliefs.

6. In what way does Limber Jimmie/James Blake stand as a critique of V? How do their separate memories reveal their different experiences? What insights of America's greatest sin and greatest crisis do you, as a reader, gain from both characters' revelations?

7. V claims that "the right side won." Overall, how would you describe her attitude toward, and her understanding of, slavery? What do you think she would think about today's removal over the South's many civil war hero statues, including her husband's?

8. In her Washington Post review, Mary Doria Russell writes of Frazier's novel:

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.

Care to unpack that statement? What does Russell mean by"without ignoring the historical complexity"? What is complex about slavery: isn't it a case of black and white?

9. The book's timeline shifts frequently. Did you find this confusing or distracting? Or does the shifting perfectly reveal the fractured nature of memories, as well as the way the past bleeds continually into the present?

From Litlovers

Suggested by Members

What parts are fact and what fiction?
by ebach (see profile) 02/02/19

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by akeim (see profile) 07/26/20

 
by thminchew (see profile) 05/30/19

 
  "Historical Fiction or Just Fiction?"by ebach (see profile) 02/02/19

Historical fiction appeals to many people because they take for granted that it teaches them history but in a novel (as opposed to history book) form. But what if a book, billed as historica... (read more)

 
by Chewitt (see profile) 11/27/18

 
  "Varina"by klarerm (see profile) 05/18/18

Varina's life is interesting but the structure of the book detracted from the story .

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