’s protagonist is an unlikely one: a Jewish street tough who escapes the hellish ghettoes of New Orleans by joining the Confederate army.
But Elias Abrams’ tale, as recounted by author Peter Charles Melman, is a fascinating, entertaining, finely written account of one man’s struggle to find something worth living for.
Abrams joins the Army to escape murder charges; while there he makes two life-changing friends. One is a professorial fellow private who discourses on Greek myths and Shakespeare; the other is a young woman whose rabbi has encouraged to write to any Jewish CSA soldier.
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There’s plenty of plot twists from there, as Abrams tries to deal with his former gang, win the heart of his pen pal and make a life for himself.
Melman is a gifted writer who brings to life the starvation, terror, boredom and petty hatreds that were part of every Civil War soldier’s life. His dialogue is sharp, deftly portraying the period’s style; even his minor characters are given backstories and motivations that move them beyond being mere plot devices.
We’re pretty sure, what with all the talk of ancient gods and myths, that the book includes plenty of subtle allusions and symbols that went right over our head. No matter. Landsman is a fun and worthy read even without the comparative-lit interpretations, and as a debut novel (from an alumni of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette), it also promises great things to come. – Richard Connelly
Landsman, Counterpoint, $24.95