White Doves at Morning
Fictional accounts of the Southern experience in the American Civil War have been accused of dwelling on the “history as romance” school of writing. The lead character is portrayed as a handsome and courageous cavalier who fights, not for slavery and the rights of the privileged few, but for honor and the love of the virginal Miss Scarlett who waits for him on the plantation. These works rarely deal with the ugly face of civil war or the savage and unending brutality of total war.
James Lee Burke is far too experienced and talented a writer to depict war as an Errol Flynn movie populated by flawless characters. His writing sets the individual squarely in the center of large historical events that they cannot begin to comprehend and which push and prod them towards actions in which they never imagined they could engage. The author’s Willie Burke, Rufus Atkins, Abigail Dowling, and Flower Jamison are Louisianans who each deal with the war in their own way. Burke and others are decent men and women who struggle to survive and retain some sense of their humanity. Atkins is a man who finds an outlet for his darker side in war and is ultimately destroyed by his own wanton cruelty. The novel is a gritty and realistic peek into the horrors of war. It is also a reminder that war does not stop when the peace treaties are signed. Each of those who survive must then learn to survive the peace.