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Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All: A Novel Paperback – October 16, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For more than half of its very considerable length, this remarkable first novel is a gem: entertaining, engrossing and memorable. Narrated by 95-year-old Lucy Marsden in a distinctive voice brimming with colorful images and sassy, ribald asides, it tells of her marriage at 15 to 50-year-old Civil War veteran "Captain" Marsden, who, permanently traumatized by events he witnessed when he and his best friend enlisted as teenagers, makes a lifetime career of reminiscing about the conflict and collecting weapons to memorialize it. Feisty, irreverent and with a caustic tongue--even in recounting the most tragic incidents, her outspoken opinions crackle with dark humor--Lucy distills the essence of the war, evokes the atmosphere of the small town of Falls, N.C.--interspersing social commentary about the South, its women and the institution of slavery--and draws the portrait of a singular marriage. Garganus has a magic way with words: on page after page, one is tempted to reread the brilliant images that pepper Lucy's monologue. Some scenes have a gripping intensity, especially the section on the burning of the Marsden plantation by Sherman's troops and the accidental immolation of beautiful Lady Marsden. The slide from engrossing to overwritten is almost imperceptible, but when, midway through the novel, Garganus tries to fill in every last detail by way of chapter-long digressions--the childhood of Lucy's mother and the courtship of Lucy's parents, the reminiscences of a wonderfully evoked ex-slave Castalia, etc.--he creates a series of dazzling character vignettes and set pieces that are fascinating in their own right but tend to overload an already long narrative. By the end, Garganus has somewhat overplayed his point that "history" always has a personal impact; in the meantime, he has given us a story that, whatever its defects, is an unforgettable reading experience. BOMC main selection.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Ninety-nine year old Lucille Marsden, confined to a charity nursing home in North Carolina, is an American cousin of Joyce's Anna Livia Plurabelle. Lucy tells the story of her marriage to "Captain" Will Marsden, ostensibly the Civil War's last survivor, whom she married when she was 15 and he was more than triple her age. She also tells about her husband's experiences in the war and after, the burning of her mother-in-law's plantation by Sherman's men, and the abduction from Africa of a former Marsden slave, midwife to Lucy's nine children as well as her best friend. But this novel is less about the War Between the States than about the war between the sexes. And, like Finnegan's Wake , it's also about how history is recorded and about how lives are turned into stories. Lucy's voice casts a spell as enchanting as Scheherazade's; a first novel to be slowly savored and richly enjoyed. BOMC selection.
- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726632
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726637
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #245,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was with my family at the South Carolina beach when I read this book. I was so moved by the chapter which describes Willie shooting the young Union soldier that I asked my brother-in-law to read that chapter(he's a history teacher and I thought it would be a beautiful passage to include in the teaching of the civil war). When I returned to the beach, he had read it and cried; my sister-in-law had read it and cried . . . Some of your reviewers suggest that the author is no storyteller . . . (whether I go to heaven or hell, my prayer is that those folks won't be there with me). As a daughter of the South and a girl who has been entertained by some of the best storytellers of the South, Gurganus is one of the finest storytellers! If you want a life-altering experience, read this novel. I've never written a review for amazon.com and probably will never write another one . . but, I feel so strongly about the inspiring beauty of this book, that I just wanted to share it . . .
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By A Customer on September 12, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I wasn't really prepared for this to be a good book -- I was given an old copy by my Mom, who is from the South. 'Oh good, another war story' I thought. But once into the book, I was hooked. So many books lately seem shallow: they have one main theme and seem constructed mainly to make a good screenplay.
This book will never make a good screenplay, but it makes a rich, intriguing read. Although the story is complex, I had no trouble remembering what was going on or who the characters were: they were so detailed and memorable. It doesn't really matter what you think about the Civil War, either: the book is primarily about people, and about a certain time in history.
On a personal note, as a woman struggling with work and kids and house, Lucy's description of life at the turn of the century made me feel downright liberated, as well as proud of all the women throughout the centuries that have fed and clothed 'a mess of children' through good times and bad. Her description of getting up every morning to make a dozen sandwiches made me think of all the trivial little things Moms do to make life go on for a family, and how it all counts somehow in the end. It was amazing to me that Allan could describe the universe from a woman's point of view with such seeming accuracy and poignancy!
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Format: Paperback
Here I am, writing this review of a book I read at least 7 years ago. But, like any great book, I still remember Lucy Marsden.
(Like I remember David Copperfield, Don Quijote, Natty Bumpo, etc.)
Perhaps Gurganus's novel doesn't belong with those other classics, but I remember Lucy!
I agree that the book should be shorter. That doesn't change the fact that you should read this story.
The most powerful impression that this book gives is that the flowing of time separates us from other generations but there are messages and memories preserved for us to experience and from which to learn.
When Lucy compares the confederate veterans hanging out in the town square to the vietnam vets hanging out in that same town square, the effect is dizzying. We came from previous generations and others will come from us, live in our houses, drive down the same streets we do, etc. Lucy serves as a reminder that time passes but things don't necessarily change.
The novel's portrayal of history is indeed special.
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Format: Paperback
I am fascinated by Southern hisotry, civil rights and the civil war --this book contained all of these ingredients --it's not really a novel with a linear plot; instead, it's a collection of recollections --just as if you were listening to someone tell you his or her life story which would meander back and forth from early to more recent events as one event triggered memory of another. Some of these stories, though fiction, gave me a truer sense of what certain events must have been like than any other real history I've read. As an example, the story of Castalia's forced journey from Africa to Charleston gave me what felt like the truest view of that passage that I have read; likewise, the story involving Sherman's assault on the Marsden plantation made me get a sense of what that must have felt like to those living on the plantations who were either freed or lost their possessions. The writing is very rich and requires careful attention; my only criticism is that some of the stories seemed to drag and could have been more tightly edited --that made the book, at times, tedious and is the reason for 4 rather than 5 stars.
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Format: Paperback
I was with my family at the South Carolina beach when I read this book. I was engrossed . . and so moved by the chapter which describes Willie shooting the young Union soldier. I asked my brother-in-law to read that one chapter(he's a history teacher and I thought it would be a beautiful passage to include in the teaching of the civil war). When I returned to the beach, he had read it and cried; my sister-in-law read it and cried . . . some of your reviewers suggest that he is not a good storyteller -- please ignor them --! As a daughter of the South and a girl who has been entertained by some of the best storytellers that the South has to offer, this man is one of the finest storytellers and this novel is a great example of that! If you want a life-altering experience, read this novel. I've never written a review for amazon.com and probably will never write another one . . but, I feel so strongly about the inspiring beauty of this book, that I just wanted to share it. . .
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