Bring the Jubilee by Moore, Ward, 1953

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Published originally in 1955, Bring the Jubilee relies on some concepts that are dated by today's standards. Nevertheless I have yet to find anything that comes close to matching it in most other areas, including plot and character, and perhaps most importantly, quality of prose. If you have not read this book yet, I highly recommend that you get a copy and give it the better part of a weekend. This book succeeds on virtually every level it touches. Its description of the economy, society, technology, culture, politics and art of the our world changed are detailed, thorough and compelling. On top of that, the main character's story is every bit as rich as the world Moore has created.

Bring the Jubilee is essentially the life story of our protagonist, Hodgins Backmaker, from his seventeenth year to his thirty-first, and beyond. This is an alternate history novel, where the point of divergence is the Battle of Gettysburg, PA in the United States Civil War. In Moore's world the "Southrons" occupy Devil's Den and Round Top Hill, and from there shell and destroy the remnants of of the Army of the Potomac, sealing victory for the Confederacy when the Union capitulates shortly thereafter at Reading, PA. From that point a great divergence between our world and this one occurs. The Confederacy claims approximately 50% of the Union after the war, including Missouri and Kansas, and ultimately California and the Southwest, Mexico, and perhaps all the way down to Peru in South America. The North, after the end of the war, begins to languish. Its industrial base is never renewed, and the economy slides into total ruin. At the time of this tale (1938-1952) the only Northern cities of any consequence appear to be New York and its "sister city" of Brooklyn. Technologically the Union (and presumably the world) are behind where we were at those points. For example, automobiles (called "minibles," I don't know what this word means, but it sounds French to me) were few and far between, most houses in the cities had telegraph sets in them instead of telephones, and hot air balloons were used for city transportation. Gas lamps lit most areas, both inside and outside, and while trains existed, the tracks of the decimated North were in horrible condition and were never repaired after the war. There was also no bridge or tunnel across the Hudson to New Jersey, not because the engineers could not accomplish it, but because nobody could afford it.

Politically the North was a mess. Two political parties vied for control of the legislature and the presidency. The most powerful party were the Whigs, who were looked upon as elitists, and who really wanted to encourage foreign development within the boarders of the USA so that those nations would be more likely to defend the US in case of another war. The second party, the Populists, advocated termination of the indentures (of which there were many), the payment of high wages to workers, the development of infrastructure internally and the raising of an army and navy. Unfortunately the Populists talked big, but could never deliver. The basic conflict was whether a trickle down or percolate up economic system would be adopted. Everyone knew that the Populists could never accomplish their goals, so by default the Whig ideals went into practice. The result was a governmental system that looked out more for foreigner's investments than citizen's needs, which caused the real conflict that did the most damage to the Union. That is, xenophobia to a degree that foreigners were regularly murdered in the street. In fact, in the Union most persons of African descent were "repatriated" in Liberia, or driven off to the "unconquered" Sioux and Nex Peirce in the Plains and Idaho, or to live in the State of "Deseret" with the Mormons. Additionally, Asians and Jews were almost entirely eliminated from the Union gene pool in two separate, thorough and vicious pogroms. This murder of the working class and fanatic opposition to immigration assured that the USA could not grow to the West after the war. Even though the succession of the South ended any chance to realize the Manifest Destiny, the North left itself nothing to work with for the western territory to the Cascades that it kept (the British were still in Canada, so I assume that they won the Oregon Territory from the Natives). On top of these problems the North developed an organization like the Ku Klux Klan that became a proto-terrorist organization called the Grand Army. The Grand Army recalled fondly the lost days of Union, and plotted against the allies of the German Empire so as to provoke a war between them and the Confederacy, while the German Empire pushed gently and quietly for a war against the Confederates on Union territory. And this is where Hodge comes to us.

Hodge was a big lunk of a useless farm boy. He seemed different than anyone else in the story, with a few notable exceptions, as he was the only one with a moral compass and the ability to show empathy. As he grew up his mother and father left him alone because he had no coordination and no drive to succeed on the farm. He was not completely without talents though. He was an intellectual in a world of rubes and dolts; a talent that has not much value on a sustenance farm. So Hodge left, to the delight of his mother who seemed to love him but never showed it, and longed to be free of feeding and boarding him. From this largely loveless Hodge emigrated to New York City, and after being robbed was fortunate enough to meet Tyss, who gave him a job in his bookstore in exchange for room and board. Hodge jumps at the chance to be surrounded by books, as he wanted more than anything to become an historian, and quickly tried to ingratiate himself to Tyss, who seemed to Hodge to be an intellectual giant. Tyss quickly realized that the boy had no drive, but did have some intellect otherwise. Unfortunately Tyss could not get over the fact that Hodge's personality was that of a passive observer, and was not a doer. After realizing this Tyss never tried to recruit Hodge into the Grand Army, which he has some leadership of. Contemporaneously with his employment with Tyss, Hodge became friends with the Haitian consular, Monsieur Enfandin. His relationship with a black man who was also a foreigner caused others, save Tyss, to ostracize him. Tyss did not only because he was used to the boy, even though he hated Enfandin for being black and for being Haitian. These two men served as the devil and the angel on Hodge's shoulders, with Tyss telling him that he would never amount to or do anything, and Enfandin telling him to do what he could to make his own future. In time Hodge felt guilt for not telling Enfindin of Tyss' feelings for him, and for not telling Tyss that Southron spies had been trying to turn him and rat out members of the Grand Army. This phase of Hodge's life ended with bloodshed, as the spy commander made his move against Tyss and killed an entire party of Grand Army members, and Enfandin was murdered for the crime of being a man of color in the USA.

Having educated himself in Tyss' bookstore, Hodge thereafter left New York City for a group of academic fellows in Pennsylvania who had asked him to join them at their enclave Haggershaven. Haggershaven was an odd commune of scientists, both hard and social, which was created by an ex soldier from the War of Southron Independence two or three generations past named Haggerwells. While there he met and fell for the daughter of the boss, and grand daughter of the founder, a physicist named Barbara. In the early 1950's Barbara invented a time machine that enabled a user to travel backwards in time. And of course, this is where the science meets the fiction. For those of you who insist on more than 15% sci-fi content (31 pages out of 199), this may cause you some consternation. And what sci-fi there is in this novel, is really meager. Hodge, a respected historian at this time, entered the machine to go back to witness the Confederate shelling and extermination of the Army of the Potomac from Round Top Hill. He does this for all the wrong reasons. His wife, Catalina and his own better judgment told him not to go. But because of feelings of inadequacy as a historian when he compared himself to Confederate historians at real colleges, and out of guilt for some past actions, and to disprove Tyss and prove that he was a doer, he went. And when he got there, he was captured and showed the world what he really was. An observer. The Southern skirmish party that captured him deduced that he was a Damnyankee, and asked him about enemy positions ahead. Instead of lying, he remained mute, which caused the soldiers, who were on their way to Round Top to secure the hill, to think that he knew of a trap ahead and wasn't telling them. Their captain, who looked familiar to Hodge, told them to hold and advance, but the men mutinied and shot their Capitan so that he could not order them to advance on the trap they feared.

Now, before Hodge had left his time, he was warned about the butterfly effect and not to change a thing. After the Captain died, Hodge realized that the dead man was none other than Haggerwells himself. Not only had Hodge changed the course of the war so that the North would win, but he killed the ancestor of the founder of his school, and the ancestor of the inventor of the time machine. Needless to say, Hodge did not go back to his time that evening.

Ive had a great deal of difficulty in writing this review. This book was so amazing that I did not know where to start. Moore's story is intricate and so interwoven with elements of the society and politics of the world that he created that it just squeezes out a bit at a time, just enough to satisfy. And there are so many things to talk about with this book, that I feel like I'm cheating you by not going into more detail. If you have not gotten this yet, I LOVED this book, and cannot recommend it enough. If you ever pick any book I review to read, this should be the one!

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 5 star(s)


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