As the Civil War envelops New Iberia, La., the skeptical, sharp-tongued protagonist of this extraordinary historical novel finds himself, against his own nature, caught up in the fray. Though he doesn't support slavery, Willie Burke joins the Confederate army anyway out of a mixture of honor and fear.
This isn't just another tale of politics and battle strategies, but rather a richly described slice of life that retells the story of the war through the eyes of an array of carefully realized characters: a slave coming into freedom, a strong-willed Yankee abolitionist, a ruthless plantation owner and many noble and not-so-noble fighting men. Describing his characters' interrelated odysseys—and the moral choices each one makes—the author unearths root causes and personal tragedies of America's deadliest conflict. Drawing from his family history as well as extensive research, Burke layers a powerful, engrossing tale with intimate, unforgettable period detail. (Simon & Schuster, $25)
BOTTOM LINE: Civil War blockbuster