Michael has kindly lent me his cyber pen for this entry. In addition to teaming up with Michael as editor and listening ear for ideas, I am an English instructor at our local community college, in which capacity I was recently asked to facilitate book discussions for our region’s community reading program (Together We Read). Since the book was Lee Smith’s Agate Hill, I was delighted to bring in both my role as English teacher and as Civil War interpreter.
If you are not familiar with the book, it uses journals, letters, and other "historic" snippets to follow Molly Petree from her childhood as an orphan in Reconstruction North Carolina through a life filled with tragedy, triumph, and mystery. While Molly is fictional, her life resonates with much that is historical in our area. Although the novel continues through the early twentieth century and Molly’s years as an elderly woman, I found the first section of the book, the 1870s, to be the most effective. Since this is an era I seem to belong in myself, I was completely entranced by Molly’s experiences. Lee Smith is a writer who does her homework, so Molly’s story, and that of her family, is deeply rooted in the actual experiences of Reconstruction North Carolinians.
For the book discussions, I came in period dress and helped community readers to understand more about the privations and hardships of the war, which were very keenly felt by women in northwestern North Carolina. The questions and discussions were wonderful, with many community readers finding themselves amazed to learn how realistic Smith’s portrayal is. I highly recommend the book for a deeper insight into postwar life (and an insight less traumatic for the reader than Terrell Garren’s well written but excruciating Secret of War). As with most of Smith’s work, the characters are fascinating and the story engrossing. Perhaps thi book, and its use in a variety of community programs, will stir more interest in the grim aftermath of the Civil War in North Carolina.
Elizabeth Baird Hardy