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 The second installment in one of the most deeply curious works of modern fiction: a romantic celebration of the South in the period leading up to the Civil War, by an acclaimed American writer who has spent most of his life living abroad. Green, born in Paris in 1900, grew up listening to the tales of the Old South told by his mother, raised in Virginia. During his long and prolific career, he has published a number of powerful, somber novels, plays, and a series of acclaimed memoirs and diaries. But he never forgot his mother's stories of an elegant, untroubled life in the Old South. The first volume in the ongoing series, The Distant Lands (1991), was published in France in the 1980s and became a phenomenal bestseller. His protagonist, Elizabeth Escridge, is a beautiful, willful, deeply romantic Englishwoman. The story followed the adolescent Elizabeth's rather complex romantic entanglements, centered around a Georgia plantation, and culminating in a duel in which her former lover and her husband kill each other. Now, Green traces her still tempestuous life in the years leading up to the outbreak of war, as she attempts to conform to the intricacies of high-society life in Savannah, raise her son, unravel some family mysteries, and resist the romantic advances of various dashing gentlemen. She marries a cousin, only to lose him in the war's first major battle. Despite the overheated drama, this is no Gone With the Wind: Green can write, and he knows how to set a large, shrewdly detailed cast in motion. The gothic plot (of betrayals, frustrated loves, grim secrets) is lively and inventive. But this is a world without larger moral dimensions: Slavery is kept largely offstage, and Green, sadly, really does seem to believe, as the narrative notes, that the gentlemanly, put-upon South was merely ``defending its lands'' in a war that took 600,000 lives. A troubling, oddly outdated work.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1996
ISBN: 0-7145-2985-0
Page count: 651pp
Publisher: Marion Boyars
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996


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