Varina: Book summary and reviews of Varina by Charles Frazier

Varina by Charles Frazier X
Varina by Charles Frazier
Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

In his powerful new novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War.

Her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects the secure life of a Mississippi landowner. Davis instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the white-hot center of one of the darkest moments in American history - culpable regardless of her intentions.

The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with "bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit."

Intimate in its detailed observations of one woman's tragic life and epic in its scope and power, Varina is a novel of an American war and its aftermath. Ultimately, the book is a portrait of a woman who comes to realize that complicity carries consequences.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Much of what Frazier imagines is consistent with the incomplete historical record surrounding Varina, and he fills in the blanks to reveal a powerful personality that, while of her times, has much to say to us today in respect of how the impact of great events on individuals can affect the history of those events." - Library Journal

"While V's emotional reserve and stoic narration keep her from becoming a fully vibrant character, this is a sharp, evocative novel." - Publishers Weekly

"Intriguing subject. Uneven execution." - Kirkus

This information about Varina was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Mary

Varina review
I enjoyed the presentation of history and the characters as they were developed in Varina. The pre and post Civil War south, its politics and people, its industry and commerce were defined from an individual's perspective - the wife of Jefferson Davis. The author also brought the reality of a "southern society life" for a young woman -partly privileged and yet controlled and disenfranchised. I realize that Frazier could not and did not cover all the horrible aspects of slavery and the war, but gave an excellent picture of one (albeit fictional) individual's experience.

Margottu

Deep, revealing, beautifully written
An excellent read about a time and place I knew so little about but always wondered. What happened to the South directly after the war, how did the citizens feel, what about the Confederate leaders?

Cathryn Conroy

Ingeniously Plotted, Lyrical Language…But the Storyline Is Confusing and Can Be Difficult to Follow
This is the elegiac story of people living in and somehow surviving the perilous crisis, conflict, and calamity in the days, weeks, and years following the end of the American Civil War. But what makes this particular tale unique is that it is told through the eyes of one woman: Varina Howell Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, who served from 1861 to 1865 as the only president of the Confederate States of America. Varina's life was filled with tragedy, including the death of several of her children, a conflicted marriage fraught with extreme challenges, years of homelessness, and financial ruin.

Ingeniously plotted, this book by Charles Frazier is divided into seven chapters with each one beginning on a Sunday in 1906 in Saratoga Springs, New York as Varina, or V as she is known, meets in a hotel lobby with a black man named Jimmie Limber. Jimmie, who was an orphan of mixed raced parentage, was a very young child when V found him being beaten on a street by a black woman. She grabbed him and took him home where she raised him with her own children. Varina and Jimmie haven't seen each other in decades, and the narrative is organized around these Sunday meetings in which V tells Jimmie what happened during and immediately after the Civil War. The gist of it is that V fled Richmond as it burned, heading for Havana, but a horse-drawn wagon laden with children and a few accompanying men for protection is a slow and dangerous way to get to Cuba. The refugees, who felt more like fugitives, traveled through the Southern states that were still reeling from General Sherman's fiery march. Rumor had it they were carrying massive amounts of gold and silver, which made them vulnerable targets by desperate people.

The writing is beautiful, nearly lyrical, and the story really is fascinating. But reading this book can be challenging: The plot bounces around in time so much that sometimes it can be difficult to follow. This is one of those books where I had to pay full attention at all times, and even then I frequently reread sections for a full or better understanding.

BeckyH

I should have loved it!
The person is eminently interesting – the wife of the Confederate President. The era is interesting – the decades before, during, and after the American Civil War. The episodes are fascinating – a Southern white woman raising an enslaved child as her own: the escape of fugitives in a devastated land: the marriage of a 17 year old to a 40 year old. So why didn’t I like it?

The episodes are just that – episodes that jump from decade to decade with no cohesion. The story is not a story – there is no plot. The tempo and pacing are erratic at best.

BUT… the writing is wonderful. The conclusions are insightful. The characters are real and well presented.

YOU might like it. I didn’t.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Charles Frazier Author Biography

Photo © Phil Bray / © Miramax Films

Charles Frazier was born in 1950 in Asheville, North Carolina and grew up in the mountains of North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1973,  received an M.A. from Appalachian State University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of South Carolina in 1986. 

Cold Mountain
, his highly acclaimed first novel, was an international bestseller, and won the National Book Award in 1997.  It traces the journey of Inman, a wounded deserter from the Confederate army - the story is based in part on Frazier's great-great-uncle , W. P. Inman.   A movie adaptation was released in 2003.

His second novel, Thirteen Moons, was published in 2006, with an $8 million advance from his USA publisher. He is also the author of ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview

Other books by Charles Frazier at BookBrowse
  • Thirteen Moons jacket
  • Cold Mountain jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more historical fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

For a year of great reading
about exceptional books!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Move Like Water
    Move Like Water
    by Hannah Stowe
    As a child growing up on the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, Hannah Stowe always loved the sea, ...
  • Book Jacket
    Loved and Missed
    by Susie Boyt
    London-based author and theater director Susie Boyt has written seven novels and the PEN Ackerley ...
  • Book Jacket: Beyond the Door of No Return
    Beyond the Door of No Return
    by David Diop
    In early 19th-century France, Aglaé's father Michel Adanson dies of old age. Sitting at ...
  • Book Jacket: Crossings
    Crossings
    by Ben Goldfarb
    We've all seen it—a dead animal carcass on the side of the road, clearly mowed down by a car. ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Fair Rosaline
by Natasha Solomons
A subversive, powerful untelling of Romeo and Juliet by New York Times bestselling author Natasha Solomons.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Wren, the Wren
    by Anne Enright

    An incandescent novel about the inheritance of trauma, wonder, and love across three generations of women.

  • Book Jacket

    This Is Salvaged
    by Vauhini Vara

    Stories of uncanny originality from Vauhini Vara, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Win This Book
Win Moscow X

25 Copies to Give Away!

A daring CIA operation threatens chaos in the Kremlin. But can Langley trust the Russian at its center?

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A M I A Terrible T T W

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.