By Robert Hicks
Completed December 6, 2009
In A Separate Country, Robert Hicks draws upon one of the Confederacy's most colorful generals, John Bell Hood, to tell a story of love, redemption and life in post-Reconstruction New Orleans.
After the war, John Bell Hood came to New Orleans a shredded man. Physically scarred with a useless arm and missing leg, Hood's mental state was equally fragmented, regretting his decisions made during the Tennessee campaign that killed so many soldiers. He marries a New Orleans debutante, Anna Maria, and started their life together, which consisted of 11 children, two bankrupt businesses and the threat of yellow fever. In the end, "yellow jack" was the demise for Hood, his wife and their oldest child, Lydia.
While on his deathbed, Hood asked his friend, Eli Griffin, to take his secret manuscript to his former protege, a known murderer named Sebastian Lemerle. Sebastian served with Hood before the Civil War, and Hood felt guilty for transforming Sebastian into a murderer. If Sebastian felt comfortable with this version of Hood's life - of a man lost, vulnerable and almost cowardly - then Hood knew he could be redeemed for his sins. It was Hood's wish that his personal memoirs - not his military one - be published. Compounding matters was Eli's discovery that Anna Marie also wrote a journal. In possession of both memoirs, Eli was determined to preserve this side of the infamous general's life, even though Eli knew finding Sebastian could jeopardize his life.
Hicks's depiction of New Orleans brought the sights, smells and sounds of this city to life. Mix in a thieving dwarf, hulk-size priest, Irish prostitute, and piano-playing octoroon, and A Separate Country depicts New Orlean's rich and historic melting pot. At times, Hicks lumbered over his descriptions, but he never strayed from his cause: bringing a greater understanding to the life of John Bell Hood and the city that he eventually called home. ( )