THE CIVIL WAR DIARY OF CLARA SOLOMON by Elliott Ashkenazi

THE CIVIL WAR DIARY OF CLARA SOLOMON

Growing Up in New Orleans, 1861-1862
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The overly prosaic and gossipy journal of a 16-year-old Jewish girl and fierce Confederate patriot. Solomon was the second oldest of six surviving girls in an upper-middle-class Sephardic merchant family in New Orleans. Unfortunately, because of the assimilated nature of her family, the reader learns little about 19th-century southern Jewish life. In fact, Solomon's diaries even contain a few crude stereotypes, such as an allusion to a Sephardic Jewish merchant as ``Mr. Hebe.'' Amid its many references to the weather, school, food, company, family, and ``crushes'' on both men and other girls, Solomon's diary contains only sporadic allusions to the war itself. The most historically revealing are reports she reads of the battles of Manassas (Bull Run) and Shiloh; the most moving are her frequent pinings for her absent father, who is away as a sutler (provisioner of clothes and other supplies) along the battlefront in Virginia. However, Solomon's involvement in the contemporary maelstrom increases dramatically in the last 80 pages or so, after New Orleans is occupied by Federal forces on April 25, 1862. She provides insight into the harsh rule of General Benjamin F. (``the beast'') Butler, the efforts at defiance by Southern patriots of all ages and both sexes, and the shortages of food and other privations. Editor Ashkenazi (The Business of Jews in Louisiana, 18401875, not reviewed) provides necessary historical background and ``decodes'' many of the personal references in the diary; his afterword reveals the postbellum fate of many members of the Solomon family, including Clara. Stylistically, however, he makes the diary a more difficult read than it might have been by not editing more. Covers too short a period and contains too much ephemera to interest any but the most die-hard students of Confederate social or 19th-century American women's history.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8071-1968-7
Page count: 444pp
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1995




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