Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Picaresque Social History

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil WarConfederates in the Attic: 
Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

by Tony Horwitz

“There are people one knows and people one doesn't. One shouldn't cheapen the former by feigning intimacy with the latter.”   ― Tony Horwitz

While I read this book more than a decade ago I still remember it vividly, if for no other reason than the cover art, which I consider to be one of the most hideous  of any book that I have read. 
Fortunately I did not let that stop me and inside I found a delicious mix of cultural history, personal reminiscence and odd, but true (I believe) miscellany about people who are fixated on the Civil War era.  One of the strangest episodes was the discussion of the fascination the Japanese have for Gone With the Wind. It borders on obsession such that it leads them to visit Atlanta, Georgia where they are known to inquire about the location of Tara, seeming to think there must be a real Tara behind the novel.  It is reminiscent of  Louis Theroux's The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures in that much of the book has a similar eccentricity.  Horwitz certainly seeks out some of the more peculiar and sometimes unsavory elements to interview including the crazy biker bar.  An enlightening interview with Shelby Foote was included, and I actually gained appreciation for a certain pro-south view (even if I disagree with it). The book may have lost something with time, since the memories of people interviewed are fading and times continue to change.

The book almost reads like a picaresque novel or collection of stories which makes it even more fun. You might consider it a snapshot of the zeitgeist of the 1990s in relation to the Civil War.  The Civil War re-enactors are truly a strange breed, but endlessly interesting in their passion for the era. It was a delight to read.

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4 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

This looks so fascinating.

I love history and like when it is presented in a different way.

I also find the Pro South argument to be interesting while I do not share it. The Civil War re-enactors are also a very eccentric group of people who likely make interesting reading.

I like the cover art! However i am drawn to the strange and bizarre.

James said...

Brian,

This is definitely history lite, very entertaining and I learned a few things I did not know (maybe many since I am not by any means a civil war buff).

Parrish Lantern said...

Definitely agree with your description of the cover & the reenactment thing is massive over here, with almost all points of UK history enacted somewhere in this country.

James said...

Gary,

Thanks for your observation. UK history certainly provides a lot more material for re-enactors.