The Year of Jubilo (2001)

by Howard Bahr

The Year of Jubilo is the kind of historical fiction where the incidents and characters are entirely imagined but their possibility is all too real. The setting is a Mississippi town right after the Civil War ended. Confederate soldier and native son Gawain Harper returns home accompanied by Harry Stribling, a fellow soldier and self-described “philosopher” whom he met on the way. Gawain finds Cumberland mostly destroyed and occupied by federal troops. Morgan Rhea, to win whose hand Gawain had enlisted, has written him off as dead. Along with adjusting to the changed conditions, Gawain and Stribling become aware of a conspiracy by a Confederate officer to incite another rebellion across the South. The leader of the rebellion has murdered Morgan’s sister and her husband, and Morgan’s father requires Gawain to avenge the deaths.

Written by a Southerner whose prose has been compared with Faulkner’s, The Year of Jubilo takes its title from an abolitionist work song about the time when the arrival of Lincoln’s soldiers promises “the kingdom a-coming.” Cumberland, Mississippi, hardly resembles a promised kingdom in The Year of Jubilo. The melancholy tone, the density of the writing, and the many characters to keep track of may discourage some readers from persisting with this admirable novel.


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