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Showing 1-10 of 49 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 154 reviews
on October 21, 2013
This book is an example of historical fiction. As is typical of this literary genre, the historical figures are present but exist mainly off- stage. The story tells of the little known Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. The historical figure John bell Hood is never heard from directly. Nathan Bedford Forest pays token, meaningless visits. But the main characters, three confederate soldiers exist center stage and rate most of our attention. The advantage of a historical novel is the author can distance himself from the action, examining the larger issues without being bound by specific facts and without undue influence of politics or even history. And so Bahr has a lot to say about war and its corrosive effects on people and on society. If one is to understand war and its consequences, he could do no better than read this book

The book is unrelentingly sad. It is told using a somewhat complicated prose style, which is at once beautiful but is also challenging to understand. The language contributes to the feeling of unreality, which is contrasted periodically by cruel truth. The author loves words and plays with them in a unique and idiosyncratic fashion. He refers to the enemy as "Strangers" and the dead as the "Departed." He may combine words as Departed Strangers for enemy dead. He thus assigns a dignity and concern for them that stands in jarring contrast to realities evident during actual war. The author frequently incorporates unfamiliar vocabulary, and southern expressions, giving the impression that it was written in another time and place. We require a glossary to understand that "peckerwoods" are southern white trash.

Throughout, the story is punctuated by memory and dreams adding to the sense of mystery of a bygone era. The title hints at its meaning. The black flower does not exist in nature. It is a concept employed to evoke a sense of darkness and death. Hawthorne mentions it in the Scarlet Letter, evoking the notion of evil and a concealment of the truth. The author of this story fearlessly deals with the evil of war and in no sense is he concealing the truth.

The book begins with a strange story of a priest who is also a general. It is weird and puzzling. However, we soon realize that we have just eavesdropped on the dream of a character we have not yet met. The dreamer turns out to be Bushrod Carter, the protagonist of the story. It is partially through his dreams and memories that the story is told. The trope of the dream is repeated again and again in the novel and memories continue to intrude on the present until we must work to distinguish memory from dreams and dreams from reality.

The first half of the book consists of nightmarish vignettes lasting over a period of 48 hours. The story tells of three lifelong friends from Cumberland Tennessee who fought for the Confederacy over a period of three years. We become acquainted with Bushrod Carter, Virgil Johnson and Jack Bishop and are struck by the affection they have for one another. All manage to survive the war without a scratch until that fateful day in November 1864 when they take part in a charge against entrenched troops near the small town of Franklin, Tennessee. It is here that they meet up with the Black Flower. Two of the friends die for their country on that day. Death would await Bushrod a few days later.

The story changes pace for the second half, which takes place at a makeshift hospital. Here Bushrod meets up with Anna who is a southern belle, now devoting her efforts to the wounded soldiers. Our image of southern civilians is promptly shattered. Anna is hardened by the war and is repulsed by the soldiers. All that was genteel about southern society was transformed by the cruelty of the war. Nonetheless, Anna represents an incipient love interest. It seems that there is perhaps hope for for Bushrod and possibly for the South as well. But it is only an illusion. His love is stillborn when he suddenly dies of infection after amputation of his arm. The author has no mercy for the characters or for the reader who is continually bathed in despair.

The author teases the reader with a brief reprieve in the epilogue. It is beautifully written with a meaning that is somewhat obscure. It tells of Winder McGavock, a non-combatant introduced in the second half of the book. He finds a pony in a field, which was previously the site of a battle. One is not certain as to whether it is a true event or a dream. The scene represents a return to normalcy after the havoc of the Civil War. But we know that the notion of hope is illusionary. In less than half a century, the entire world would once again know the grotesque havoc of war, and would once again see the Back Flower.

The book is multilayered with many meanings. It would appear to be primarily about pain and loss, but also about war, the corrosive effects of war and about human relationships. Ultimately it is about betrayal. It is about priests who become confused as to their roles and assume the title of general. It is about ordinary men who betray their humanity when they regard strangers as enemies. It is about military commanders who send their men into hopeless battles and civilians who betray those same men. But the ultimate betrayal is memory itself. It is said that memories change their meaning with each recall. Bahr indicts non-combatant women who concoct the false memory of the Lost Cause to serve their own needs, ignoring the realities of the men who actually fought.

"So the women would not forgive. Their passion remained intact, carefully guarded and nurtured by the bitter knowledge of all they had lost, of all that had been stolen from them... They banded together into a militant freemasonry of remembering, and from that citadel held out against any suggestion that what they had suffered and lost might have been in vain. They created the Lost Cause, and consecrated that proud fiction with the blood of real men."
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on February 22, 2016
The characters are written live and colorful. Makes you think you are right there with them. The story gives you a real taste of what it was like in the close combat of the US Civil War and the impact from it on soldiers and civilians alike.
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on June 28, 2015
Beautifully written, heartfelt account of a young, simple country man, with the name Bushrod Carter, who was thrown into the ghastly life of a soldier in the Civil war; heading toward the Battle of Franklin at the McGavock Farm. Yes there is graphic violence described, it is a story about one of the bloodiest battles on American soil. The details are so well woven into the story and all so very believable, it is difficult to remember that this is a piece of fiction and not a first person account of the entire battle,the time preceding the battle and immediately after. I thoroughly enjoyed The Black Flower, having read it twice in the past two years as well as Mr. Bahr's two other novels, The Year of Jubilo and The Judas Field. Each is a captivating read; Howard Bahr is an exceptional storyteller!
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VINE VOICEon January 5, 2013
Howard Bahr's The Black Flower is a well-researched, accurately depicted account of The Battle of Franklin. Set during The Civil War, the story focuses primarily on soldier Bushrod Carter and his friends' involvement. Especially poignant about Bahr's novel is the level of consciousness he gives to war and battle. He puts you right in the middle of the soldier's thoughts as he progresses and marches towards battle, and then takes you to the aftermath, where he thinks and experiences the effects. The gruesome aspects of war are depicted, yet the author also focuses on the effect and inner turmoil of the individual. Some aspects of war are romanticized, but these are quickly contrasted with the emotional and physical toll of war, the aftermath of those directly in fight or those who are called on to help the victims. The Black Flower doesn't go overboard with over the top war sequences, yet we feel--and experience--the devastation in a raw, almost too realistic, way.

While the novel shifts around in time, a good portion of it is devoted to the meeting between Bushrod and Anne, who is helping tend to the wounded in a makeshift hospital at the McGavocks' home. The first part focuses on Bushrod's team getting ready for battle, and then marching towards their destination. We follow their thoughts as they move onward, and then the narrative moves around a bit.

The Black Flower has a stream of conscious angle to its storytelling. We shift from time periods before, during and after the battle, from various character perspectives and places. Bahr also powerfully is able to use levels of consciousness to move to an almost "out of body" perspective (with characters looking at all angles of the war) and then back to real time. This adds to the blurred perspective, as line between life and death, the black flower, become intertwined. Bahr accurately depicts the fear and anxiety, hopelessness and uncertainty, yet courage and mettle all involved had to face both during and after the war.
If there is one knock, the book does get a little dogged down with melodrama at points. However, these moments are minimal.

The Black Flower is a compelling novel about The Civil War, one that illustrates what war does to the individual. Bahr also has such a lyrical way to his writing that make this a smooth read, giving each passage a poetic, powerful quality.
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on April 19, 2012
The closest I've ever come to believing in ghosts was one year around Halloween when my dad and I visited Gettysburg at dusk. The sunset silhouetted spiky, spindly trees in the distance and shone a scorched orange light across an open battlefield, tinting the dried-out grass red, and there was ... something ... there. I was reminded of that feeling reading Howard Bahr's Civil War novel "The Black Flower." For a chapter, Bahr takes a break from the main narrative of his debut and leaps years ahead to a scene in which a woman revisits a battlefield and has much the same experience I did at Gettysburg. All that bloodshed, all that death has to fundamentally change the land it occurs on. Bahr's plotting is open to many such digressions. It's loose but not in the scatterbrained way of an unsure first novelist. Bahr keeps a steady hand on the tiller while allowing the story freedom to flow in unexpected directions, jumping forward and backward in time, following various characters for long stretches or maybe just a few paragraphs. One chapter is even told from the point of view of a blood-drunk wasp in a horror-show battlefield hospital. Bahr's approach allows for beautifully quiet moments of observation such as this: "For a time after they were gone, nothing moved in the silent afternoon. Then, high overhead, a single leaf turned loose its hold and rattled down through the branches. When it broke free of the bottom branch, it spun for an instant, descending. It settled on the fresh-mounded earth of the grave -- the first of many to come, autumn after autumn, forever." I like that. So much that I went back and reread it a couple of times. I backtracked a lot in "The Black Flower." It's a good book for backtracking.
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on July 9, 2012
This is one of those books that stay with you. I was so moved by this book,with the final chapter leaving me in a deep state of mind, as to what just took place in the sequence of just a few days in the character's lives. The author writes like poetry and dislpays the many directions the mind can take in circumstances beyond our most imaginings today. He's one of the most gifted writers I've read in a long time. I don't know how I had'nt heard of this one before now! The characters come very much alive in your mind while reading.The description of life as they see it, at that point and time is told like someone who was there!. This author has that capability of passing that along, the fears, thoughts and imaginings of a time now gone. The decription of what it felt like moments before the battle, and then the aftermath, leaves one into a quiet contemplation for a while. This book tells the story for a modern generation. I can't wait to read his other two civil war novels.
I highly reccomend this one, you don't have to be a Civil War fan to enjoy. It is about humanity, and how one deals with what's been dealt his way.
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on February 7, 2013
It is a story about what individual people went through in Franklin Tennessee before, during and after the battle. It reminds you of what that period in history was like with no modern medicine or communication. It opens your eyes that many of the Union and Confederate soldiers were kids who knew nothing of fighting a war. They just did their best with practically no training but with the belief that their cause was worth it.

The story is touching, moving and tragic. I became so fond of the characters and emotionally was pulling for them even when the odds were against them. The writer holds you, then in the end, leaves you with a huge sense of respect and awareness of what both sides went through and you pray to God it can never happen in this country again.
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on January 21, 2014
After reading "The Judas Field" by Howard Bahr, I was under the impression that he, Mr. Bahr, tended to write the story in a intense, but somewhat confusing way, making it almost "work" to read it. However, his book, "The Black Flower", shows this is not always the case. What a story! I found myself in tears on 2 different occasions, and it's been a long, LONG time since a novel has been able to do that! Vivid and intense, but smooth and flowing....you feel personally involved with the characters in the book. I loved it!
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on May 4, 2010
In my opinion, "The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War" by Howard Bahr remains one of the most distinguished books ever written of that most written-about topic in American historical fiction. The primary plot of "The Black Flower" centers about two hapless young people of the period, those close to them, and the major battle at Franklin, Tennessee. Subplots involve key figures, friends and family, of the protagonist, Bushrod Carter, and his would-be love, Anna. Although I consider the book one of the most noir tales ever told, that also points out the falsity of romanticizing war in film and fiction.

It is author Bahr's analysis of character and his facility with expressing profound ideas that make "The Black Flower" such an engrossing read. This novel invites the reader into the lives of the characters and the unimaginable impact of the war on the individuals portrayed as well as on the nation they inhabit. Forever.

Example: Mr. Bahr sheds light on the patriotism and loyalty to a war that many outsiders considered wrong then and now. This author's observations helped me understand the strongly held points of view about the civil war that exist even today.

No one should believe that this novel is not depressing, but so is the act of war and killing and maiming and dying. In addition to the horrors of the battlefield, the book spends a fair amount of time in an antebellum mansion, then converted to a hospital with its many surgical theaters---remember, those were the days when the most common cure for infection was to cut off the offending members.

What Mr. Bahr's book does, however, is to lead the reader to grow with new insights and the experiences of a variety of characters: good ole' boys, a hospital volunteer, criminals embedded amongst the troops, and army deserters. "The Black Flower" is itself a deeply moving experience and an astute look at many people who battle for a cause; because their government or society orders them to do so, and sometimes because it's more interesting than what they might do otherwise.

This is not a book you will forget easily or quickly. Perhaps never. Thank you, Howard Bahr, for this profoundly insightful experience and your elegant writing style.
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on July 20, 2017
I love civil war books and this one is great.
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