Hero tale follows a Confederate to Brazil
by Rob Neufeld
Casey Clabough—literature teacher, writer, and farmer from Lynchburg, Va.—traces the hero’s progress from Confederate war veteran to Brazilian colonist, creating memorable incidents and employing assured knowledge.
“Confederado,” Clabough’s seventh book and first novel, exemplifies the mission of Ingalls Publishing of Banner Elk to publish historical fiction of this region.
“A Short Time to Stay Here” by Terry Roberts, another of Ingalls’ four new titles this season, also resonates with trueness, as it places a romance in a Hot Springs hotel occupied by POW German offices during World War I.
Roberts’ hero, Stephen Robbins, the hotel’s manager, narrates the story first-person, and fills the novel with poetic lyricism that sometimes seems like flourishes; and sometimes unites sound and sense to feel like memory.
Confederado and other heroes
The hero aspect of “Confederado” provides the novel its delight and horror—and dignifies many characters along the way, including a Morgan farm horse.
When Alvis flees a Federal occupation force in his home town—after an improbable accident that serves to set up the drama—he finds that Little Betty, the steed he’d borrowed from his minister, is surprisingly capable of outfoxing his pursuers’ thoroughbreds.
“The federal riders would invariably gain on them in the wide, sun-drenched pastures and shady, wooded straight-sways, but then fall back again” in the woods, with Little Betty “adopting a trail, departing it, and then taking up another with a surefootedness more reminiscent of a mountain goat than a horse.”
“What a magnificent little animal,” Alvis muses, pausing on a bald after galloping down a road.
Alvis often thinks of the war. He had served four years as a member of Mosby’s Rangers.
He also thinks of his family. He’d carried his dying father back home from a battlefield and had to bypass getting a parole at Appomattox. His younger brother, McCain, recovering from disease, could run the farm for their mother and sister in Alvis’ absence, he realizes.
McCain adds to the complexity of the story.
Once, Alvis recalls, McCain had reacted with disdain to Alvis’ rescue of a mouse that McCain had wanted to kill as it had darted from a hay pile.
“You have always been a stranger among your equals,” McCain had addressed Alvis, and then had gone on about Alvis’ inappropriate kindness toward people.
“However good your name may be in the servant quarters,” McCain remarked, “you don’t need me to tell you such behavior creates little affection for you among the people of our circle.”
This would have been a good opportunity for Clabough to mention slavery. The African Americans in the book’s pre-Civil War scenes are called servants, not slaves. Alvis’ visit to his uncle at his ruined plantation in piedmont Virginia casts no glance at the slave history that must have haunted it.
Courage not regret
So, there’s a blank spot in the book about slavery—except for a note on the role of slavery in Brazilian history—and a blank spot for characters’ subconscious minds. Alvis’ dream about meeting Lavinia, the love of his life, is a detailed memory—not a dreamlike diversion into symbolic absurdity.
Nonetheless, Clabough’s fiction is full of realism and depth.
Alvis’ adventures along the Doce River in Brazil reveal, for instance, an ugly side of Confederate history.
“I have heard tales,” Evandero, a hard-times plantation owner, tells Alvis about immigrants from Southern cities, of “brawling, stealing, mugging, and vandalizing. Most of them have wound up impressed into service against the Paraguayans, begging in the streets, or languishing in our jails.”
Evandero comes to life beautifully with his kind-hearted world-weariness, associations with the most brutal inhabitants, and vivid tale-telling.
For example, there was once a new settler, Evandero relates, who, desperate for meat, had shot a Barbados monkey out of a tree.
“The creature fell to the ground much as a person might and lay there wailing, clasping the wound at its side with its little fingers. When approached by his attacker, the little monkey held out a small palm in defense or supplication, soaked though it was in blood.” The settler butchered the creature for his wife to cook.
To be is to take action
In fact, there’s one terrific episode that reminds one of both the “Worm of Corbin” story from Howard Pyle’s “Sir Launcelot,” and of the movie, “Brave.” It relates to what Alvis had learned of human nature on the battlefield as in Brazil.
“Alvis,” Clabough writes, “likened Evandero to such men as one would hope to fight beside in a war. Possessing an understanding of both life and death, he looked upon their inevitabilities with a steady gaze.”
Philosophy serves Alvis well.
Confronting a cruel lord who promises to frustrate Alvis with his power and influence, Alvis delivers a speech worthy of Don Quixote.
“I do not dispute that the best weapons eventually triumph on the battlefield, just as the most gold wins the best possessions,” Alvis professes, “yet I would gladly give up either for fellowship and love.”
“Dulcinella!” you hear the Man of la Mancha calling in the next theater over.
Casey Clabough--and fellow authors Robert Morgan, Rita Mae Brown, James Hall, and others--speak at the High Country Book Festival in Blowing Rock, beginning with a fundraiser meet-the-authors dinner, Fri. through Sat., Meadowbrook Inn, Blowing Rock. Visit www.highcountryfestivalofthebook.com; or call 264-1789.
FOUR NEW BOOKS COMING FROM INGALLS PUBLISHING COMPANY