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Nostalgia: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 1, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This Civil War novel by respected novelist McFarland (Prince Edward, 2004) tells the story of young Union soldier Summerfield Hayes. By switching seamlessly between harrowing scenes of combat (at the Battle of the Wilderness), wartime recreation—with an emphasis on “base ball” (apparently the contemporary usage), at which Hayes excels—and Hayes’ postbattle, disoriented wandering and later hospitalization (where his muteness is regarded as malingering), as well as his childhood and recuperation at his Brooklyn Heights home, McFarland portrays a troubled if multidimensional character. The tragically accidental loss of both parents has affected both Hayes and his sister, Sarah, with whom he has an unusual bond. The ministrations he receives from Walt Whitman add a literary touch to this deliberately paced novel, and the touchingly sympathetic characterization of Whitman will appeal to many readers, as might the “base ball.” --Mark Levine

Review

**Washington Post Best 50 Books of the Year**

“Walt Whitman, who haunts the pages of this sensitive, ingenious, beautifully written novel, famously said that the real Civil War would ‘never get into the books.’ Nostalgia deftly explores an aspect of war little understood in Whitman’s time or in our own—the invisible wounds combat inflicts upon many of those who somehow manage to survive it.” —Geoffrey C. Ward, coauthor of The Civil War and author of A Disposition to Be Rich
 
“Emotionally harrowing . . . McFarland manages to find something new to say about a war that could have had everything said about it already . . . A moving account of one soldier’s journey to hell and back, and his struggle to make his own individual peace with the world afterward.”—Publishers Weekly
 
Praise for Dennis McFarland
 
“McFarland is a Divine Watchmaker of a novelist.”—Newsweek
 
“A writer of extraordinary sympathy and compassion that are remarkably free from sentimentality.”—Boston Sunday Globe
 
“McFarland is heir to the great Southern literary tradition, and his observations, however somber in import or lyrical in delivery, are always laced with a splendid appreciation of life’s absurdities.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“McFarland has to be counted one of the brightest hopes for the literate American novel. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who wouldn’t like to have written some of his sentences . . . You want to compare him to Chopin or Mendelssohn more than to any particular writer.”—Hartford Courant

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (October 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307908348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307908346
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #860,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dennis McFarland is the author of NOSTALGIA, LETTER FROM POINT CLEAR, PRINCE EDWARD, SINGING BOY, A FACE AT THE WINDOW, SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND, and THE MUSIC ROOM. His short fiction has appeared in THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR, THE NEW YORKER, PRIZE STORIES: THE O'HENRY AWARDS, BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and Stanford University. He lives in rural Vermont with his wife, writer and poet Michelle Blake.

Customer Reviews

Nostalgia is a beautifully crafted novel, peopled with engaging characters.
RARE RATER
Today the term for Nostalgia is used to show memory of a by-gone era, along with a melancholy, where the bad memories are eradicated and the good memories elevated.
David Seaman
The author's writing is good and truthful, yet, I believe he spends too much time on the hospital scenes and book just seemed a little too long.
Q. Publius

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By cw on October 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Abandoned, battered, and lost in the wake of the Wilderness Campaign, Summerfield Hayes,a 19-year old Union soldier,finds his way to a Washington military hospital. There, amid memories of his young life in Brooklyn and his recent ordeal in the Virginia woods, and surrounded by the horrors of the ward, Hayes encounters a wound-dresser known as Walt. Walt Whitman, as McFarland imagines him, is an enigmatic but completely convincing figure whose empathy and compassion offer some hope of recovery to the broken men he serves.
McFarland's sentences are beautiful: if you tend to read too fast, as I do, you stop and reread them in order not to miss anything. The inner and outer world of the young soldier come alive on the page, allowing the reader to experience civilian life in 19th-century Brooklyn (including its baseball fields) as well as the stink of a military hospital during an agonizing Washington spring. This is a wonderful book -- highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By MichaelDowning on October 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Riveting. The gripping and often harrowing details of the pivotal Civil War battle in Virginia's Wilderness are rendered with such precision and authority that they haunt the reader as surely as they haunt Summerfield Hayes, the young baseball ace whose brief stint in the Army of the Potomac leaves him wounded, speechless, and unable to recover the will to live. The prose is exquisite, and the arresting details that grace Summerfield's memory of the landscapes and cozy interiors of his former life heighten the tragedy of his hopeless situation, an unknown soldier wasting away among his maimed and dying comrades. But in a genuine coup, into this catastrophic gloom McFarland delivers a wry and reliably unsettling bearded man in a floppy hat--Walt Whitman. And in his compassionate presence among the casualties of war, we sense the faint but persistent heartbeat of a wounded nation, and the possibility of life within the broken spirit of a young man.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Fremont on October 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant novel. It is masterfully written--the work of a true writer. Through the experience of young Summerfield Hayes, the novel's protagonist, McFarland exposes the reader to the terrors of war, during battle and during the aftermath of recovery. The plot, which comprises three narrative strands, tells a classic American story (interweaving baseball, the Civil War, family, and the growing pains of a young nation) with fresh details and new observations. The reader is transported into the nightmare of the novel's opening scenes set amidst the Battle of the Wilderness, the hazy half-reality of the hospital for wounded soldiers, and the distant memories of a home left behind. The characters become the reader's friends, and what good friends they are (one in particular, a great American poet, you will not want to say goodbye to). Through his expert craftsmanship, McFarland tells a story rooted firmly and exquisitely in the past, but relevant to the present; a nod to the many wars we have seen since 1864, all those we may have yet to see, and the invisible wounds of a soldier no matter place and time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr. J. J. Kregarman VINE VOICE on December 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Nostalgia is beautifully written. Dennis McFarland's prose moves it poetic arcs. His descriptions of the first days of the Wilderness campaign in the Civil War and of early baseball games is excellent and interesting as are his description of the fate of wounded during the civil war. However the narrative moves slowly and involves so much singularly unresolved pain that I found myself hard put to pick it up again after putting it down for the evening. I could empathize with the hero, Summerfield Hayes's inner torture but not quite intellectually understand fully the reason for his particularly rapid downfall - perhaps a result of the authors habit of not telling his story straight but going back and forth with time.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By RosalindM on October 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
PTSD Isn't New, alas. NOSTALGIA by Dennis McFarland is a novel describing the inner and outer life of a private in the battle of the Wilderness, May, 1864. He develops 'nostalgia,' the word used then for what we now call PTSD. The account of the battle is searing -- the point has to be made and is graphically accomplished. This writer's skill in weaving inconsistencies and time shifts got me into an unaccustomed and uncomfortable state of confusion and uncertainty. The result? I got the point. When I joined the hero in not knowing whether he was seeing an hallucination (Is the Dr. Speck in the hospital really the same Dr. Speck from the battlefield?) or when he remembers different versions of battle moments, I got an inkling of what the disorientation of post war trauma might be like. The sympathetic protagonist kept me -- and some well-portrayed characters in the book -- close to him and his progress. The introduction of Walt Whitman as a character in the book is a warm and engaging touch.

This is not a book I would recommend to anyone sensitive to the atrocities of war; but as an interesting and moving account of PTSD I recommend it highly.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Richard Sutton VINE VOICE on October 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dennis McFarland's new novel Nostalgia, is the product of an outstandingly empathetic mind. This is a writer who truly knows us, especially the unanswered questions that manipulate our lives. As a work of historical fiction, this stands in a very select company. It succeeds as a brilliant re-telling of the typical Union conscript's soul-numbing experiences during one of the most destructive, protracted battles of the Civil War. It stands as a compelling study of the oddly dis-connected times when the lives of citizens in cities only slightly removed from the carnage, could continue as if the war was on the other side of the world. It stands as one of the most effectively brutal re-creations of Civil War Hospital convalescence I have yet read, and it stands as the most touching recreation of Walt Whitman's ministrations to the injured soldiers I may ever read. In addition, the author's use of nineteenth century baseball as a conduit into our modern age is brilliant and absorbing.

Nostalgia, in the title, so effectively dissected according to it's etymology in the opening pages, actually refers equally to the diagnosis of the time for what is now, finally understood as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The author's meticulous journey into the mind of Private Hayes brings this disorder into clear focus. We are left wondering why our society continues to make the same large-scale mistakes again and again, despite experience telling us there is another way. The surprising yet completely believable fate of a young Brooklyn ballplayer, gone to war, sets a very high standard for fiction yet to be written about the period.

In the Afterward, the author muses about the ways a character can control the telling of his story. In this case, I believe that Walt Whitman himself must have stood just a step behind McFarland during the writing, whispering into his ear, from time to time, to make sure he got it right. He did.
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