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Shenandoah Whispers and Echoes

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Success Stories

by Tom Orrell


ISBN 1-4010-4707-6 (paperback), 1-4010-4708-4 (hardback)
Xlibris, 2005
113pp, hardback or paperback
Retail price $

Open Book

Review by Nan Seal

This hardcover book is beautifully jacketed. Attractively and professionally presented using a sepia toned photograph of a Shenandoah farm, the cover is reminiscent of the fictitious account of the American Civil War that the tale depicts. Inside the cover, a reader finds the writing to be southern style, first person narrative. This is appropriate since it is the story of a modern day southern journalist who gains access to a newly unearthed journal, literally, written by an inhabitant of the Shenandoah Valley during and after the war. The wordiness of this style may get in the way of modern readers but without it, the time period of the journal would be inaccurately portrayed.

There is a similarity between this writing and that of Cold Mountain. Cold Mountain's advantage is that it came after a moratorium by US publishers on descriptive writing. American readers had been deprived of description for at least two decades so that even the unending grayness painted in that book was well received. Similarly the tragedies portrayed in Shenandoah Whispers and Echoes during and after the American Civil War are difficult to lighten but, due to the realistically presented horrors and atrocities, readers need relief. Although it is a brief, succinct and a thin volume that is easily completed in a single sitting, the rapid and repetitive tragedies force one to take self-saving interruptions from the mental agony. The journal writer seems to have had few positive emotional experiences in an otherwise bleak life. Falling in love, traveling and inheritance aren't given as much descriptive attention as the tragedies and so are inadequate relief for the reader. The main character's travel was welcome and was at least as adequate as Steinbeck's in Travels with Charley. A more detailed and lengthier account of his movements would have been welcome. The same is true of an account of the first feelings of romance in the main character, James Randolph Wise 1852-1929. The account of romance given was believable but too brief, again as was Cold Mountain's. Even Wise's feelings on having been left money are inadequately accented. In a story with so much extreme agony the need for countering emotions is great.

I found few words to quibble about. Obviously I felt on page 74 the use of the term "eclipsed the optimism" was a form of dyslexia that should have read "eclipsed the pessimism". Two phrases seemed out of place for the journal's time period: on page 38 "surreal slow motion" and on page 80 "psychological baggage".

I found the author's history and his reminder of the reasons for the Civil War on target. Since both are under fire from revisionists and those with political agendas this book's publication is a welcome reminder of factual lessons the US should have learned from the past. Those lessons came at a price too high to be repeated. The price paid is indeed the horror presented so graphically in the pages of this book. I feel two disclaimers are in order: first this era is my least favorite in American History and secondly I am a southerner. This book gave me insight into why a southerner can hate this war as thoroughly as I do. On page 40 the author says, "I can still vividly recall looking through the smoke at the American flag they carried as they disappeared over the hill." No one can abide seeing the flag of their country flying over such bloodthirsty combatants. Any American will be sad to read this part of our history and any southerner would be proud to read this account. The main character comes from a border area and grew up unionist but when he witnessed first-hand the atrocities he became forever southern. I daresay any reader will also.