Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Andersonville, MacKinlay Kantor, The World Publishing Company, 1955, 760 pp

This endless tome was #3 on the bestseller list for 1955 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. Because of the number of words per page, the book was probably equivalent to about 1400 pages. It took me thirteen days to read it. That was frustrating but it is not a bad book; though I can't imagine it being a bestseller today.

It is a recounting of the creation, maintaining and dissolution of Andersonville prison, which held up to 27,000 Yankee prisoners of war during the last two years of the Civil War. That's 27,000 at a time. The crowding was intense, the rations amounted to starvation and scurvy, there was no shelter nor were there any sanitation facilities. Hundreds of prisoners died every day. Just gruesome.

The author tells the story through various points of view including that of certain prisoners complete with each one's personal back story. We also hear from a local plantation owner who could be classified as a "good" slave owner, several confederate army officials, a doctor, etc.

The book definitely dragged at times and was almost too horrific to read. The only other POW camp book I had read previously was King Rat by James Clavell, a much shorter book leavened with some wry humor and quite a bit more excitement. I have since read Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard. All three books show a prison camp to be an extreme microcosm of life on earth, because the entire range of human qualities exists even there. All that is missing is women. Actually there are women in Empire of the Sun.

I will be thinking about this book for a long time.

(Andersonville and Empire of the Sun are available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. King Rat is probably best found in your local library.)

No comments:

Post a Comment