John Bell Hood’s tormented journey
Part historical novel, part love letter to New Orleans, A Separate Country is the remarkable new novel by Robert Hicks, author of the bestseller The Widow of the South. Based on the real life of Confederate General John Bell Hood, the novel imagines Hood in the years after the war, crippled and trying to find peace despite his infamy. He ends up in New Orleans, a city both beautiful and corrupt, peaceful and filled with the cacophony of drinking, gambling and any other vice one can dream up.
Hood sets up shop as a cotton trader, but without any real business skills, he fails quickly. He spends years trying to write a book in defense of his war experiences, but his only real success is in marrying Anna Marie Hennan, a young Creole woman he meets at a ball: “I saw that if I had gone through my life intent on the ugly and difficult (as I had!), shedding every delicate and perfect part of my soul like so many raindrops, Anna Marie must have followed behind me gathering what I sloughed off so that one day I might sit in a ballroom in New Orleans and see for myself what I had lost.”
After several happy but increasingly impoverished years during which they have 11 children, Anna Marie and the Hoods’ oldest daughter, Lydia, die during a Yellow Fever epidemic. Hood, himself stricken with fever, calls his friend Eli to his deathbed and gives him the manuscript of a book he’s written—one not about war but about his life after the war. Eli also discovers Anna Marie’s secret journals, and he pieces together the story of their extraordinary, tough life together.
Hicks once again delivers a lovely, richly detailed tale pulled partly from history, partly from his own imagination. He captures the enchanting, dark, humid soul of post-war New Orleans, a time when anything was possible but nothing—at least for one Confederate—was easy.
Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.