‘A Shout in the Ruins’ takes on horrors of the Civil War


A Shout in the Ruins

By Ron Charles | Washington Post

Kevin Powers wasn’t old enough to vote when he enlisted in the U.S. Army, but by 2004 he was fighting in Iraq as a machine-gunner. When he got back home to Virginia, he began writing poetry and fiction about his experiences in Mosul and Tal Afar, trying, he said, to give readers “a 10 percent example of what that might be like.”

His debut novel, “The Yellow Birds,” was one of the first about the Iraq War and one of the most celebrated novels of the era. A finalist for a National Book Award, it won praise from Tom Wolfe, Dave Eggers and writer-vets who knew the horrors of battle firsthand. If Powers’s prose sometimes sounded florid, that seemed a blemish worth tolerating for the emotional insight he offered on that quagmire 6,000 miles away.

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But now Powers has turned his scope on slavery and the Civil War, the most well-trodden battlefield of American fiction. “A Shout in the Ruins” marches with a phalanx of great novels by Colson Whitehead, Toni Morrison, Edward P. Jones, Geraldine Brooks, E.L. Doctorow, Paulette Jiles, Charles Frazier, Jeffrey Lent, Michael Shaara, Gore Vidal, Stephen Crane and so many more, stretching all the way back to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Any new writer who tries to join the ranks of these authors risks tripping over their feet or, worse, being set upon by the cliches that scamper after them like mangy dogs.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“A Shout in the Ruins” moves between two time frames separated by almost a century. In 1956, a very old black man is displaced from his house by the new Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike carving through Virginia. With a suitcase, a few ancient possessions and some faded memories, he sets off to solve the mystery of his origin.

A Shout in the Ruins LittleBrownThat quiet, pensive search is effectively obliterated by the novel’s other story line, set around the Civil War, which is far more developed – and considerably more dramatic. The geography, the weaponry and the cause are entirely different from the Iraq War, but Powers brings to Virginia battle scenes the same searing immediacy he brought to his stories of carnage in “The Yellow Birds.” Once again, we come to feel the …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

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