Saturday, July 23, 2011

WHEN WILL THIS CRUEL WAR BE OVER? THE DIARY OF EMMA SIMPSON by Barry Denenberg


Growing up on a Virginia plantation in the mid-1800s, slavery has been part of Emma Simpson's entire life.  Now she and her mother are working tirelessly to keep the place running in the absence of her father who is somewhere to the south fighting the Yankees.

Emma hears constant reports describing the ignorant Yankees and their disapproval of holding the black people against their will.  The slaves she's known on her father's plantation seem happy enough.  She watches the women gladly helping her mother in the garden and in the main house.  Even the men who work in the fields and drive the wagons appear content, and she knows none of them have been mistreated like some she's heard about.

Sporadic letters from Emma's father promise the South will win the war quickly, but as time passes more of their neighbors and friends are sending men off to fight.  When Christmas of 1863 passes without a celebration, Emma realizes hopes of a short war might be wishful thinking.  Aunt Caroline, Cousin Rachel, and Baby Elizabeth stay on into the New Year.  Their company is welcome, especially when Emma's mother becomes ill.

Emma's diary over the next year describes the rapid and devastating changes as the war drags on.  Although their slaves remain loyal, keeping the plantation running becomes more and more difficult especially as her mother's health deteriorates.  Word arrives almost daily of local men and boys losing their lives on the battlefield as the Yankees come closer every day. 

Emma writes of her mother's death and sickness that threatens neighbors and friends.   She describes  enemy troops ransacking plantation homes destroying prized possessions and taking food and livestock with no regard for the remaining women and children.  Emma tries to remain hopeful despite the constant worry that her father and the young man she loves might not return alive.

Author Barry Denenberg gives readers a view of the Civil War through the eyes of a young girl from the South.  Whatever one believes about the intent and purpose behind this historical time, Denenberg shows the toll it took on the lives of those who struggled to hold on while the war raged around them.

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