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Reviews of The General and Julia by Jon Clinch

The General and Julia

A Novel

by Jon Clinch

The General and Julia by Jon Clinch X
The General and Julia by Jon Clinch
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2023, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 23, 2024, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

Ulysses S. Grant reflects on the crucial moments of his life as a husband, a father, a general, and a president while writing his memoirs and reckoning with his complicated legacy in this epic and intimate novel from the author of the "masterly" (The New York Times Book Review) novel Marley.

Barely able to walk and rendered mute by the cancer metastasizing in his throat, Ulysses S. Grant is scratching out words, hour after hour, day after day. Desperate to complete his memoirs before his death so his family might have some financial security and he some redemption, Grant journeys back in time.

He had once been the savior of the Union, the general to whom Lee surrendered at Appomattox, a twice-elected president who fought for the civil rights of Black Americans and against the rising Ku Klux Klan, a plain farmer-turned-business magnate who lost everything to a Wall Street swindler, a devoted husband to his wife Julia and loving father to four children. In this gorgeously rendered and moving novel, Grant rises from the page in all of his contradictions and foibles, his failures and triumphs.

Moving from blood-stained battlefields to Gilded Age New York, the novel explores how Grant's own views on race and Reconstruction changed over time. Another work of "must-read modern literature" (Charles Frazier, New York Times bestselling author) from historical fiction master Jon Clinch, this evocatively crafted novel breathes fresh life into an American icon.

CHAPTER 1: 1843

The Canary

How large a box shall be required?

The canary is the smallest of creatures, three inches long if that. To take its precise measure would be indelicate regardless of his good intentions. So he bends to it upon its bed of linen, and he touches its cool, dry, brilliant feathers with his finger, and he subtly gauges its length against the count of his knuckles. That will be measurement enough.

What is its color? The very shade of a lemon.

How much does it weigh? Little more than its own last breath.

Birdie's sudden passing breaks her heart. At sunup he was his usual cheery self, welcoming the morning to her bedroom with his repertoire of peeps and chirps and burbles. His song, his color—indeed, his very pulsing presence—were all so lovely and so familiar as to be utterly beneath notice. Now their absence pains her. His cage hangs empty, its black shadow a ragged latticework stain upon the blue wall.

Her father looks up from his soup plate, notes the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The novel presents an affecting portrait of a lesser-known president and his family ties, and Clinch creates an elegant flow between the past and present. The prose style is smooth and inconspicuous, with omniscient third-person narration that sticks largely to Grant's perspective but also gives glimpses into other characters' experience. As Clinch writes in a concluding Author's Note, figures from the past can be understood through "genuine moments of attention, imagination, and sympathy." That is the magic of biographical fiction: bringing real people and happenings to life in a way that allows us, as Clinch puts it, to "appreciate the hearts and minds of those who came before us."..continued

Full Review Members Only (766 words)

(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

Bookreporter
A sweeping, monumental portrait of Ulysses S. Grant…Paired with Clinch's elegant, assured prose, the result is dazzlingly good, evocatively crafted and emotionally resonant. Perfect for lovers of American history and historical fiction fans alike.

Christian Science Monitor, a Best Book of the Month Pick
Affecting...As the story shifts between Grant's arduous final days penning his memoirs and scenes from his life as war hero and president, a portrait emerges of realization, regret, and newfound humility.

Booklist (starred review)
Epic in perspective and feeling…sublime prose…Superb historical fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A graceful, moving narrative…affecting…an empathetic portrait of a towering figure.

Library Journal (starred review)
Clinch's compelling study conveys the complicated legacy of Grant, who had no pretense for pageantry, deeply loved his wife and children, and treated everyone with decent human kindness. A remarkable novel, utterly gripping.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Letts, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of A Perfect Horse and The Ride of Her Life
Every once in a while I read a book that is so utterly fascinating that I can't stop talking about it. Jon Clinch's The General and Julia is that book. We meet Ulysses S. Grant as we've never seen him before—not just an American hero, but a loving husband, and a somewhat reluctant celebrity caught up in the razzamatazz of Gilded Age America. A love story, a compelling piece of American history, a page-turner, with a star-studded cast of characters—not since All the Light We Cannot See have I read such a perfect example of what historical fiction should be. I predict that every book club will soon be reading this book.

Author Blurb Robin Oliveira, author of My Name is Mary Sutter, the bestselling novel and winner of the Michael Shaara Award for excellence in Civil War Fiction
In a deft dialogue between the past and present, Jon Clinch presents General Grant as a humble man of deep integrity, who in the depth of grave illness revisits his many sacrifices, financial struggles, perceived failures and perilous triumphs as he writes his memoirs in a quest to save his family from financial ruin before he dies. My God, Jon Clinch can write. This story is luminous and palpable, and made me fall in love with the mastery of Jon Clinch, the writer, but also with Grant, just as a grateful nation once did. This is the best book I've read in an age.

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Beyond the Book

Mark Twain's Publication of Ulysses S. Grant's Memoirs

Ulysses S. Grant writing his memoirsAs recounted in Jon Clinch's The General and Julia, Samuel Clemens (who wrote under the alias Mark Twain) met President Ulysses S. Grant in the White House, introduced by a senator from Nevada. When the men crossed paths again after the end of Grant's presidency, they developed a friendship. Clemens frequently encouraged Grant to write his memoirs, but Grant always demurred, saying he wasn't a writer. That is, until financial ruin and a terminal cancer diagnosis made him fear for his wife Julia's future. Grant made arrangements with Century Magazine to write articles about Civil War battles, paid at $500 each. Century was also willing to publish his memoirs, but the standard terms of the contract—10% of royalties&mdash...

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