Nostalgia: A Novel
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**Washington Post Best 50 Books of the Year**
This stunning Civil War novel from best-selling author Dennis McFarland brings us the journey of a nineteen-year-old private, abandoned by his comrades in the Wilderness, who is struggling to regain his voice, his identity, and his place in a world utterly changed by what he has experienced on the battlefield.
In the winter of 1864, Summerfield Hayes, a pitcher for the famous Eckford Club, enlists in the Union army, leaving his sister, a schoolteacher, devastated and alone in their Brooklyn home. The siblings, who have lost both their parents, are unusually attached, and Hayes fears his untoward secret feelings for his sister. This rich backstory is intercut with scenes of his soul-altering hours on the march and at the front—the slaughter of barely grown young men who only days before whooped it up with him in a regimental ball game; his temporary deafness and disorientation after a shell blast; his fevered attempt to find safe haven after he has been deserted by his own comrades—and, later, in a Washington military hospital, where he finds himself mute and unable even to write his name. In this twilit realm, among the people he encounters—including a compassionate drug-addicted amputee, the ward matron who only appears to be his enemy, and the captain who is convinced that Hayes is faking his illness—is a gray-bearded eccentric who visits the ward daily and becomes Hayes’s strongest advocate: Walt Whitman. This timeless story, whose outcome hinges on friendships forged in crisis, reminds us that the injuries of war are manifold, and the healing goodness in the human soul runs deep and strong.
Dr. Speck, but either stops himself or is stopped by the surgeon in chief. “And isn’t it too convenient,” continues the captain, “that the officer alleged to have issued the unlikely orders was soon killed at Spotsylvania? I ask you again, Private Hayes, are you not a coward and a deserter?” Hayes’s palms burn with the precise sting that comes after fielding an especially hard-hit ball. The noise beneath the floor ceases abruptly. The numbness in his right foot abates. The air in the room seems
embroidered smoking cap and slippers—he reads the newspapers, naps when he can, sorts through the mail that accumulated in his absence—and he has the distinct impression that the three women of the house, each in her own way, labors to accommodate his new and lurking presence. Now he gazes down at Jane, on hands and knees among the tomatoes; she looks to him paler and thinner than ever, as if, in time, she’ll simply fade away. He places his nearly empty cup on a nearby potting table. “I see the
migration through darkness. As rumored, the Second Corps was to march down into the fork of land between the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, toward Richardsville, and from there on to Ely’s Ford. They went in two columns of two divisions each, splitting the corps in half and advancing along two separate routes, one more southerly than the other. For the first few hours—afforded little light from the stars and a sliver of moon—they could see nothing of their surroundings; in generally fine spirits,
his hand; he spreads two fingers and looks out, through the little triangle thus formed, at the river of visitors and nurses and preachers and attendants that passes at his feet—his aimless parade. Soon, something from the river spills into his triangle: a tall skinny man in a long gown staggers barefoot and florid into the space between the two beds. Apparently the victim of a head wound, he wears a turban of bandaging and glares down at Hayes with a look of bewilderment and fury. He is clean
“I’m pretty sure it was him.” “Did he look soo-perb?” asked Leggett, a reference to the major general’s nickname. Hayes, who thought Leggett was being unnecessarily difficult, squatted to retie his laces. When he stood again, Leggett put an arm around him. Hayes recalled their wandering through woods the night before, in search of a dentist or a doctor—and how their lantern had made the thicket shadows swing side to side. “Well,” said Leggett, “if it can’t be Julius Caesar leadin’ us, I reckon