Synopses & Reviews
A novel that resonates with the bitter glory and deep human shame of the Confederacy. Against the epic canvas of the Civil War, the people, black and white, of one Virginia plantation fulfill their unforgettable destinies.
Duncan Gatewood, seventeen and heir to Gatewood Plantation, falls in love with Maggie, a mulatto slave, who conceives a son, Jacob. Maggie and Jacob are sold south, and Duncan is packed off by his irate father to the Virginia Military Institute. As a cadet, Duncan guards the gallows of John Brown; as a man he will fight for Robert E. Lee. Another Gatewood slave, Jesse whose love for Maggie is unrequited escapes to find her and is sheltered by a young white couple who are sentenced to prison for this crime. Jesse finds his freedom and enlists in Mr. Lincoln's army; in time he will confront his former masters.
From the interlocked lives of masters and slaves, and from a wealth of carefully researched yet unobtrusive historical detail, Donald McCaig conjures a passionate and richly textured story in the heart of America's greatest war. The loves, letters, and struggles of the characters connect a Vicksburg brothel to a Richmond salon, the riches of a sleek blockade runner with scenes of dire poverty, and the nightmare of a confederate hospital to the lurid hell of the battlefields at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.
The Civil War is the wellspring of much of our most notable literature, and from this rich, poignant material McCaig has fashioned an unusual and powerful tale, a Confederate masterpiece.
"In a prepublication blurb about this novel, Publisher's Weekly observed: 'Imagine a collaboration between Shelby Foote and Margaret Mitchell and you get some idea of ...this fine literary novel.' PW was not exaggerating in the slightest. Jacob's Ladder is, in the judgment of this reviewer, the finest novel about the Civil War ever written. It is exactly what its subtitle says it is 'a story of Virginia during the war.' It begins at the time of John Brown's raid and it goes to Appomattox, and it leaves very little out about that bloody, brutal conflict. Its characters are as diverse as they are all too human. Jacob's Ladder is a better novel than Cold Mountain. It makes Gone With the Wind look like the soap opera it really is in the last analysis. And compared to it, Mary Johnston's The Long Roll and Cease Firing seem as much out of date as silent movies. McCaig has produced a masterpiece which deserves a wide readership." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)