Friday, June 15, 2007

Landsman: A Novel

by Peter Charles Melman

From the publisher:
A stirring, evocative, and unforgettable epic novel of the Civil War in the tradition of Cold Mountain and Widow of the South.

In the summer of 1853, in Lafayette City, Louisiana, eleven-year-old Elias Abrams loses his mother to yellow fever. Grief-stricken and alone, he becomes embroiled in the street life of New Orleans. After Elias is falsely accused of a crime and in order to escape arrest a decade later, he enlists as a private in the Third Louisiana Regiment, where three thousand other Jews will ultimately fight for the Confederacy.

The chaos of life at the front is broken in the form of a letter written by a young woman to "a soldier" in order to lift his spirits. Elias' courtship of sweet Nora Bloom becomes heady with true romance and escapist longings. Before long, though, Elias' past catches up with him, and he realizes that he must face his demons or lose the woman he loves.

Peter Melman has crafted a riveting tale of redemption and romance in the midst of this nation's most bloody and convulsive conflict. Landsman is transfixing and transporting, as well wrought as any classic work of historical fiction.

From Booklist:
A barely literate hard-bitten gambler and petty criminal, Elias Abrams, the 20-year-old cardsharp hero of Melman's solid debut, flees hometown New Orleans (and a bogus murder charge), joins the Confederate Army and realizes "every circumstance of his life now conspires to kill him." He survives the infantry as he had the city—using his wiles, card skills and fists—until his colonel hands over an envelope containing a charming missive from Nora Bloom, a young New Orleans maiden who wrote a support-the-troops letter at the urging of her rabbi. Unexpectedly stirred, Elias begins a correspondence and finds himself obsessively fantasizing about her. A battlefield injury leads to a furlough during which he returns to the city to meet both Nora (he falls in love) and cronies from his seedy past, who use his new flame as leverage to draw him into a sinister plot. Readers will find no fault with the colorful portrait of Civil War–time New Orleans, its squalid underworld and small Jewish enclave, or Melman's portrayal of army life (more hurry-up-and-wait than cannons and sabers). There is certainly no shortage of Civil War fiction; this is one of the better offerings.

From Publishers Weekly:
Can a man expect justice from the world if he has spent his life inflicting injustice? Elias Abrams ponders this quandary while sitting in a Missouri field. Having fled New Orleans in the wake of a murder and seeking refuge in the Confederate army, Abrams begins to analyze the elements leading to his conscription: the Jewish son of an indentured servant roaming the brothels and alleys of Civil War New Orleans fueled by whiskey, gambling, and brawling. This carousing finds him the accomplice to a brutal murder and on the run from the law and his fellow carousers. Throughout the narrative, Melman crafts searing images: the physical degradation of Civil War infantrymen, the underbelly of 1860s New Orleans, burgeoning love, and one man's unplanned introspection. This novel gallops across prairies and battlefields as Elias Abrams writes letters to his Nora Bloom and struggles to make sense of his past, all while trying to carve out the future he desires. At times ribald and always real, Melman creates a rich and authentic story.