KENTUCKY BLUES by Derek Robinson


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An unsentimental account of life in the Kentucky backwoods before and after the Civil War, by British Robinson (Goshawk Squadron, 1971).

The Cameron River Valley was about as far as you could get from civilization and still be represented in the US Senate, but it was good farmland and free for the asking—if you could find your way there. In the small settlement of Rock Springs, two families had grabbed up most of the land—the Killicks and the Hudds—and, in true Kentucky style, they spent most of the next century hating each other’s guts. Some of this was due to circumstance, since Henry Hudd had gotten there first and claimed the best land, and Joe Killick never forgave him (or himself) for this. The fact that the Hudds made money while the Killicks slid gradually into poverty made things only worse—and, in retaliation, the Killicks weren’t above turning to demagoguery to advance themselves. When Joe Killick ran for mayor on a racist ticket after the Civil War, he had no trouble beating Charles Hudd (who’d fought for the Union side). Caught in the middle were the local blacks, who suddenly found themselves scapegoated for the South’s defeat. A former Hudd slave who had learned to read and write managed to buy a parcel of land from his ex-master that became a kind of commune for displaced blacks—and a target for redneck vigilantes bent on driving them from valley. No longer slaves, can they survive as free men? Justice is a murky concept where both blacks and whites are used to taking the law into their own hands. The more immediate question is how straight they can shoot.

Deft and nuanced, Robinson’s epic account avoids some of the worst Civil War stereotypes and stirs fresh air into a too often musty and stale corner of American history.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-304-36182-8
Page count: 520pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2002


by Shelly Frome