A quick rundown… Abel, once a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War, is making one last journey. This is the story of the people he meets over his life.
Strengths: Very powerful and evocative writing.
Weaknesses: I found some of the battle scenes were a bit too gruesome for me.
Why I read it: Sent to me by Bloomsbury – thank you!
Rating: 8 out of 10
In between the two covers of this rather innocent looking book are some of the most evocative and emotional prose I have ever read. Be warned: this book is a journey that you certainly won’t forget in a hurry.
Wilderness packs a punch to the senses in more ways than one. It opens with a blind elderly lady, but this lady is not our main character. She’s thinking about Abel, a soldier she met many years during a horrific winter. We then move back in time to Abel, as an old man making one last journey. We then flash back to earlier times during the American Civil War. I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away, but there’s violence, prejudice, heroism, kindness and tragedy all combined.
Weller writes incredibly powerful scenes that stimulate every sense. The battle scenes of the Civil War in particular took me away from my train seat into the smells, screams and palpable fear. I was nearly brought to tears at one point. Weller counterbalances these scenes with ones of kindness that will restore your faith in humans, in particular the events involving Jane Dao-Ming Poole and Abel. One tip though – the narrative does move back and forth between time periods, so check the time of each chapter or you might get confused.
The prose is also incredibly lyrical, almost rhythmic at times. Setting is also described particularly well – I’ve never visited that part of America, but I feel that it is familiar through Weller’s writing. Weller also doesn’t shy away from the more cruel things that humans do to one another – some of the aspects of the battle scenes I found a bit sickening, but the respect I felt for Weller’s writing kept me reading.
If your only knowledge of the American Civil War is from movies or books like Gone With the Wind, read this book to see the true realities of war from a male perspective. Weller also includes race and class in this book and how they were viewed during this time. Wilderness really brings history alive, warts and all. I can’t wait to read Weller’s next book.