The Year of Jubilo, Howard Bahr’s even-handed story of the year immediately following the end of the Civil War–before the full impact of reconstruction–is not only refreshing in the author’s resistance to continuing the fight between the North and the South, but demonstrates outstanding examples of the beauty available in the English language. The reader will feel impelled to read Bahr’s novel more than once, just to enjoy the author’s expertise in turning a phrase.
Beginning with an example of the brutality of renegade Southern troops who took the law into their own hands when it became evident that the South was losing its war effort, Bahr leads the reader through the homecoming of Confederate soldiers and their subsequent travails adjusting to a different world than the one they left behind. Civilians were no less challenged–the people who suffered through murders, home burnings, and deprivation even though they didn‘t make it to the front lines.
Gawain Harper embodies the conflicted minds of both Southerners and Northerners as he slowly makes his way back to Cumberland, Mississippi, sometimes wondering if perhaps he should have stayed in the army, even though he had joined the Confederates in response to the pressure from the father of Morgan Rhea, the girl he wanted to marry. Along the way back to his home and even after he arrives there, he meets a cast of characters who wind up in Cumberland also, contributing to, but also seeking solutions to the overwhelming problems which have arisen during the war.
Bahr does not spare the details of the horrors of life in the South at the time, but he rewards the reader with extraordinary prose: "The moon, like a guest arriving after the party, rose diffidently, a little shyly, as if it expected to be turned away."
Avid readers might be advised to keep a note book near to jot down the plethora of symbols and references to characters out of literature and the Bible, and to try to keep up with the huge number of people who have significant roles in the story.
This reviewer, a Southerner by birth, recommends this book without hesitation. Bahr’s details of the conditions in which the South struggled at the end of the Civil War are highly instructive about the period and about the South especially. The Year of Jubilo is an important history lesson. It comes at a most propitious moment in the modern history of the South and especially of Mississippi where voters just approved overwhelmingly to continue displaying the Confederate flag, in spite of the connotations of such an action. Bahr is able to stay neutral in the controversies which still swirl around the conflicts of the War Between the States, while at the same time giving the reader many opportunities for fresh insight into the mindsets of that era.
– Dorcas S. Saunders