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Devil's Dream: A Novel About Nathan Bedford Forrest Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424885
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,373,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After tackling the Haitian slave rebellion in a three-book series, Bell uses a smaller stage to create a captivating portrait of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. The novel plays effortlessly with time and structure, shuttling between 1845 and 1865 as Forrest marries Mary Ann Montgomery, becomes a guilt-stricken slave trader and, during the Civil War, is targeted for destruction by General Sherman. Despite his aggressive actions on the battlefield, Forrest struggles with the demands of a complicated family: tensions between Mary Ann and Forrest's black mistress take a personal toll, while the rivalry between his sons Willy and Matthew (the illegitimate child of a long-ago affair with a slave) creates distraction. Meanwhile, his addiction to gambling and his attraction to his mistress send Forrest into a contemplation of the forces that control him. Many of the war sequences are delivered via Henri, a Haitian wanderer who joins Forrest's troops and possesses the ability to communicate with the ghosts of those killed in battle. The unconventional structure and supernatural twist expand the narrative into an engaging examination of what it means to be free, a question that haunts Forrest through his life. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Bell’s magnificent Haitian trilogy, focusing on the rebel leader Toussaint Louverture and concluding with The Stone That the Builder Refused (2004), established his bona fides as a superb historical novelist. In his most masterfully choreographed fact-based tale yet, Bell returns to his native ground, Tennessee, to tell the tale of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a feared Confederate general of profound contradictions, strategic brilliance, and outrageous valor. Bell conceives of Bedford as a sharp-tongued, virile, dangerously charismatic, and seemingly invincible slave trader who treats the people he “owns” with respect and compassion, and an equestrian who loves horses yet rides many to death in audacious cavalry maneuvers. Irascible rebel Bedford loves his white wife, black mistress, and all his children, legitimate and otherwise. Bell subtly contrasts America’s Civil War with Haiti’s slave revolt via his narrator Henri, a Haitian with “the sight” who gets drawn into Bedford’s orbit. Exciting and authentic, Bell’s novel of a world in violent transition is flush with action and ravishing evocations of forests and fields, heat and rain, the muddy churn of hungry troops, and fleeting moments of respite as tragedy is leavened with sensuality and mystery. Will Bell’s Bedford, who so perfectly embodies the cruel paradoxes of race and war, ride again? --Donna Seaman

More About the Author

Madison Smartt Bell is a critically acclaimed writer of more than a dozen novels and story collections, as well as numerous essays and reviews for publications such as Harper's and the New York Times Book Review. His books have been finalists for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, among other honors.

Customer Reviews

I felt like I was there in those times.
I have read a lot of historical fiction from this era which I found much more satisfying, both from the view of a northerner and from a southerner.
This is the most realistic portrayal yet.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jim Duggins, Ph.D. on December 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Devil's Dream" by Madison Smartt Bell is many things -- a book one can't put down; a fascinating story of American history and valiant warriors; and, finally, a book one wants never to end. This writer feels privileged to have discovered a perfect example of the novelist's craft. That is not to say it's an easy book -- it is, after all, a story of America's bloodiest war, and the protagonist, Nathan Bedford Forrest, is nothing if not a warior.

Forrest, a Confederate cavalry officer during the Civil War, his family, friends, and cavalry cohorts form the nucleus of this story of a man who may well be the most fearless and single-minded person who ever lived. Author Bell's character development in "Devil's Dream" is breathtaking for the scope and depth of his presentation. In the course of the book, we meet his wife, children, slaves, friends, and, yes, his mistress, each one of whom is well-developed and who further informs us about Forrest's persona. Best of all, we come to see Black and White people, slave and free, in many roles during what must have been the most tense time of race relations in American history. Of particular interest, too, are the attitudes of southerners on the ground, many of whom cohabit with family members who are Union sympathizers.

Author Bell's macrocosmic knowledge of American history and microcosmic details of Civil War battles is awesome. And, most important, none of this information is "told" to us lecture-like -- it's all "shown" -- and you feel yourself seated behind Forrest on his horse as he plunges into the thick of a half-dozen battles. One is astounded by the number of knife cuts and bullets the man survived as well as the number he administered to others.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a terrific novel about a real figure: Nathan Bedford Forrest, who became one of the most respected Confederate generals in the Civil War. A slave-owner himself, he offers to free any slaves who will join him in fighting for the right to retain the institution. We see him in a rage, breaking a pot over the head of an insubordinate slave, then the next moment going to considerable expense to seek out and buy back the man's wife, who had been sold away from him. This only one of the contradictions that make Forrest so fascinating. Of minimal education himself, he nonetheless manages to win the heart of Mary Ann Montgomery, the genteel product of a finishing school, who tempers his roughness with grace, understanding, and a firm touch. Although still obviously in love with his wife, Bedford finds a different kind of passion with a slave woman, Catharine, with whom he will have several children. Two of his sons, one legitimate and the other not, will fight with him in the war, and the rivalry between them and their mixed pride and envy of their father forms one of the minor strands in this absorbing and exciting book.

I should say that I am no Civil War buff, and have read very few other books about the conflict. This one is good, not because it casts light on events that I already know, but because it leads me into a world I hardly knew at all. I can think of only other one novel that comes so close to making me feel the detail and texture of the war, Michael Shaara's magnificent THE KILLER ANGELS, his novelization of Gettysburg.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. Browning on December 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Devil's Dream is a meticulously researched novel, but it's just that--a novel, not a history of Forrest or the Civil War. History buffs will not find much reason to object to the book, but they are not its primary audience. The book is essentially a character study of a brilliant but seriously flawed man. There's plenty of battlefield action, but it's chiefly in service of the larger narrative about Forrest and the culture that produced him. The book has a mystical element woven through it, suggesting that Forrest's war is one episode in an eternal struggle, whether it's the struggle for freedom, or the struggle to rise above our base nature.

Like all Bell's work, Devil's Dream is beautifully written, but the strength of the book is Bell's insight about Forrest. He doesn't try to explain the man, but explores his contradictions in a clear-eyed, unsentimental way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Olson VINE VOICE on January 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ambivalence nags at me
I both liked and grew a bit bored with Madison Smartt Bell's interesting Devil's Dream. Historical fiction about Civil War Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Mr. Bell used an interesting literary formula to examine the more intimate elements of General Forrest's roguish life and character. Nathan Forrest was both a simple man and extremely complex. He was a first class fighter, a man of principle, yet character flawed in several ways.
The book is not an easy one to read and requires the reader to pay attention. This is where my interest flagged as I found my mind wandering at times. In several places I skimmed filler to get back to more interesting writing. I did enjoy Mr. Bell's use of colloquial English and how he related General Forrest's views concerning slavery. All in all not an easy novel to read if you do not have some prior background concerning Nathan Bedford Forrest the man and famous civil war general. I am a long time civil war buff and General Forrest is one of my favorite civil war characters who I have read extensively about. Fairly accurate historically but do not expect to read much in the way of actual battles or personal combat. Some, but that is NOT the main thrust of this novel. Also, the non-sequential literary style of the writer can confuse the reader.
Not the best Civil War historical fiction I have read yet still interesting.
Hard to recommend as a hardback. If you are interested get it from your local library or wait for the paperback. Worth the read but be warned it will demand that the reader pay attention.
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