cover image Nostalgia


Dennis McFarland. Pantheon, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-307-90834-6

In McFarland’s emotionally harrowing Civil War novel, Summerfield Hayes is a 19-year-old Brooklynite, living on Hicks Street and pitching for one of the local “base ball” teams. Over the objections of his older sister, Hayes enlists in the Union Army and ends up taking part in the Battle of the Wilderness. Wounded, he winds up in a hospital in Washington City, where his doctors see that the horrors of battle have rendered him mute and incapable of even signing his own name, and diagnose him as suffering from a medical condition then called nostalgia. Hayes is cared for by, among others, a ward matron and a bearded hospital volunteer named Walt whose identity should be immediately apparent to anyone who knows anything about 19th-century American poets. Employing three alternating narrative strands—Hayes’s idyllic life in his native Brooklyn, his horrifying battlefield experiences, and his nightmarish hospital recuperation—McFarland manages to find something new to say about a war that could have had everything said about it already. In the end, this is a moving account of one soldier’s journey to hell and back, and his struggle to make his own individual peace with the world afterward. (Oct.)