At the onset of the Civil War, Mississippian Gawain Harper is ambivalent about the Southern fight for independence, preferring instead to focus his efforts on teaching English at a school for girls. The Confederacy is a bad dream that he dismisses as a short-term aberration of history, until two things occur that bring the reality of the war home to him: First, his school is forced to shut down because of the war, and, second, the father of the woman he loves makes it clear that Harper will never marry his daughter unless he volunteers for military service. Gawain Harper learns what so many before and after him have come to realize: That the turning points in a person's life are invariably capricious in nature and almost never subject to the will of the person most affected. With no job and perhaps more importantly no marital prospects, Harper joins the Twenty-First Regiment of Mississippi and marches out of the small community of Cumberland, Mississippi, to find not so much glory as peace of mind.
For the most part, Howard Bahr's new novel, The Year of Jubilo, is about Harper's return to Cumberland after the war. The author writes with such precision and passion about the devastation that greets Harper, it makes you wonder if Bahr, a war veteran who saw combat in Vietnam, created his main character with more recent history in mind. Bahr is a gifted writer who adheres to the dictum advanced by one of his literary heroes, William Faulkner namely, that the best writing is always about the conflicts of the human heart. Although Bahr's story is firmly rooted in the Civil War, it is the quality of his writing, his ability to define characters by their actions as much as by their thoughts, that distinguishes this novel.
Bahr's debut novel, The Black Flower, earned him the 1998 Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Year of Jubilo should earn him more accolades and, hopefully, an even wider audience.