Ev Ehrlich’s career to date has spanned writing, US government service, consulting/advisory work with major corporations, and radio assignments on the popular American radio show “NPR Morning Edition.” Judging from his latest novel, Grant Speaks, I would urge him to drop the other pursuits and concentrate on writing — the reading public would be in his debt. Grant Speaks is a “memoir” by Ulysses S. Grant, the brilliant US Civil War officer and dreadful president whose life experiences ran the gamut from awkward West Point cadet, to Mexican War hero and drunken peacetime officer, to failed businessman, to victor over the redoubtable Robert E. Lee, to service as chief executive of the most scandal-ridden presidency in American history, to a cancer victim pressed to complete his memoirs to save his family from poverty. Not your average life, but Grant was far from your average man.
Ehrlich has the dying Grant write his autobiography to set the record straight on his uncertain path to fame. In the least credible part of the book, the young “Useless” switches places with a boyhood rival so as to attend West Point and escape his unexceptional life. The military academy transforms the young man and brings him into contact with other cadets who will shortly provide the United States and the Confederate States with their leading military officers. Grant’s opinions of his peers (the foul-mouthed Sherman, the quirky and unstable young “Stonewall” Jackson, and the “little mama’s boy” Robert E. Lee) and his consistently irreverent treatment of other legendary political and military Civil War personalities will doubtless upset many a reader more comfortable with conventional interpretations. Others will find this style refreshing as well as on target. Ehrlich’s historical analyses and comments speak of hours spent with research materials and a finely honed critical attitude towards packaged accounts and sacred cows.
While the reader may be put off by the fabricated identity switch with the “real” Grant, the wit and creativity of Ehrlich’s storytelling will make the reader stay the course. An outstanding novel for anyone interested in the American Civil War and the life and times of Ulysses Grant. Fans of Robert E. Lee should exercise caution!