The Year of Jubilo

Written by Howard Bahr
Review by John R. Vallely

Howard Bahr’s Civil War fiction has already earned praise from critics, casual readers, and the ever-growing number of Americans who remain consumed by the period. His Black Flower, published in hardback in 1998, treated the Confederate disaster at the 1864 Battle of Franklin through the eyes of his carefully crafted fictional participants. The Year of Jubilo follows the fortunes of a pre-war teacher named Gawain Harper who returns to his home of Cumberland, Mississippi, to resume civilian life after reluctant service as a Confederate private. Harper finds Cumberland as changed by war as he, and while trying to cope with this new existence he also finds himself slowly, but inexorably, drawn into the deadly conflict between Union occupation forces and Confederates who refuse to accept defeat and submission. To his horror, the killing he had hoped was finally over has come back into his life.

Harper is a sensitive and decent man anxious to solidify his relationship with his sweetheart Morgan Rhea while overcoming the hostility of her powerful father. Bahr’s portrayal of Harper is so finely drawn that the reader identifies with this earnest and sad young man within a very few pages. The townspeople, Union troops, and Confederate diehards also come alive through Bahr’s craftsmanship. His knowledge of the Mississippi of 1865 and the powerful social and emotional forces driving a conquered people and their northern victors into conflict enables readers to seamlessly transport themselves to this unsettled time.

Anyone wishing to examine the crushing impact of defeat and the harsh realities faced by soldiers returning to a society utterly transformed by war should take the time to follow Gawain Harper as he looks for love and peace of mind in postwar Mississippi. An outstanding piece of work, blessed by an artist’s touch with the English language.