The Times of London // Review

"I couldn’t help but think as I read this novel by Charles Frazier, of Cold Mountain fame, that Scarlett O’Hara would be turning in her grave. Vain and spoilt, the star of Gone With the Wind has long occupied our minds as the archetypal Southern belle. I, for one, am glad to have her usurped by a real-life woman, one Varina Howell Davis."

"It is what happens after that disastrous bloody war that enthrals the most. Varina and children, plus ragtag entourage, plunge into a tumultuous escape south to Florida. As they make their way, fugitives, fearful of capture, Frazier writes: 'In a collapse of such magnitude — a provisional country scoured to bare nubs — rules of behaviour wash away.'"

"Towards the end Varina is asked if history would someday forgive her. 'No,' she says. For she knew, unlike a certain Scarlett, that if you are on the wrong side of history the fact that tomorrow is another day doesn’t change anything at all."

Roanoke Times // Our Top Picks for Summer Reading

Charles Frazier’s new novel, “Varina,” uses fiction to tell the very real story of Varina Davis — wife of Jefferson Davis — and her life following the fall of the Confederacy. She stuck with a loveless marriage, spending more time away from her husband than with him. The story unfolds as Varina, at the end of her life, tells a somewhat mysterious visitor about the family’s flight from Richmond, her struggle to make a living while her husband lived with another woman, and ultimately moving to New York City to write for magazines and newspapers. The book is a great companion to “Winnie Davis,” Heath Lee’s biography of the couple’s daughter that covers the same period.

— Doloris E. Vest, owner of Book No Further, Roanoke’s downtown independent bookstore

Wall Street Journal // Review

V “cuts a remarkable figure—bookish, witty, opinionated, generous and nearly always the wisest person in the room. It’s impossible not to fall in love with her, which is the point and also the problem, because while Varina was bravely pro-Union she did not, in any meaningful way, oppose slavery. Mr. Frazier’s superb novel is both a large-hearted homage and a sensitive reckoning of the guilt that accrues to those who ‘profited from pain in the face of history’s power to judge.’”

"A banquet of first-rate storytelling follows, with cameos by the lonely old bachelor President Buchanan; the boisterous, cynical Mary Chesnut, who is always happy to share her opium supply; and even Oscar Wilde, who visits the Davises in Louisiana in 1882, hoping to bring back to Ireland Jefferson’s advice on staging a revolution. “He was never a rebel,” Varina corrects him, displaying an effortless ability to deflate her husband’s delusions of grandeur. “He was a businessman and a politician who believed the Constitution protected the capital of his class and culture above everything else.” See what I mean about falling in love with her?"

"Varina is [...] a masterful portrait of a woman who brings uncommon dignity to her remembrances, and to the lifelong work of atonement."

Chapter16.org // Review

"Frazier’s description of the South in the aftermath of the war resembles recent post-apocalyptic fiction in which military violence combines with ecological catastrophe to destroy all remnants of civilization."

"In Varina, as in Cold Mountain, danger lurks everywhere, and human beings are reduced to barbarism."

"Though Varina is the novel’s central figure, Frazier provides a sidelong portrait of Jefferson Davis as a delusional egotist whose skewed sense of honor has cost countless lives. Socially awkward and emotionally stunted, he has never overcome the grief of losing his first wife, Knoxie, who contracted malaria on their honeymoon. Varina can forgive his emotional impairment, but his maniacal campaign to 'prolong the war' in the face of certain defeat is a crime beyond the scope of her mercy."

 

 

 

New York Times // Review

"Frazier in this, his fourth novel, lyrically resurrects the blasted but hauntingly beautiful Southern landscape just after the war"

"Beautifully rendered"

"...thanks to Frazier’s delicate ventriloquism, Varina Davis becomes a marvelously fallible character, complicated enough to stand on her compromised own."

NPR: Morning Edition // Interview

Charles visited with NPR's "Morning Edition" to discuss what inspired him to write Varina: "After Cold Mountain, I never thought I wanted to write about the Civil War again. But as the past three or four years have shown, it's not done with us — as a country, as a culture."

Washington Post // Review

"In some ways, 'Varina' can be read as an antidote to 'Gone With the Wind.'"

"This is V’s story, but Blake is a cogent critic who keeps her memories anchored in others’ reality."

"Frazier’s historical research generally sits lightly on the story, almost always embedded gracefully in dialogue, a small telling incident or a sharp memory of kindness or brutality. His prose is both of the characters’ time and perfectly evocative."

"Elegiac without being exculpatory, it is an indictment of complicity without ignoring the historic complexity of the great evil at the core of American history."

Richmond Times-Dispatch // Review

"A writer of evocative prose, Frazier possesses the rare capacity to impel the reader to stop, re-read and savor a passage..."

"A study of guilt and grief, “Varina” showcases historical fiction at its finest: emotive and explanatory. It displays Frazier’s immense talent and bountiful creativity. And it earns its place among the finest Civil War novels of any era as it chronicles damaged lives and a deservedly lost cause."

Atlanta Journal-Constitution // Review

"V disdains the sinister politics of the Confederate capital. She endures the nastiness of the city’s society ladies, who ridicule her dark complexion and intellectual enthusiasms. She hates the war and, finally, she hates the South. ('I’ll never return to Richmond until it’s feet first in a box.')"

"Norman Mailer once wrote that a bestseller is 'a perfect clock that ticks to its conclusion.' In Varina, the chronometer is a slow agrarian chase, slyly paced."

"If Frazier succeeds in finding a place for Varina Davis in the popular mind, he raises, through James’ interrogations, the issue of her complicity with evil — her fatal choice, as it were."

Winston-Salem Journal // Review

"With the publication of Varina early next month, Charles Frazier’s many fans will celebrate the end of a long wait."

"Like Inman’s trek toward home in Cold Mountain, there is adventure and terror at almost every stop. [. . .] Even though we know the escape is doomed to failure, Frazier’s dazzling descriptions make us hope."

— D.G. Martin

Publishers Weekly // Review

"Varina Howell Davis . . . is an inspired choice as heroine for Frazier’s riveting fourth novel (following Nightwoods). 'Being on the wrong side of history carries consequences,' he writes, and the events of Varina’s life propel a suspenseful narrative."

"a flawed but fascinating woman"

"this is a sharp, evocative novel."

Library Journal // Starred Review

"The unveiling of Varina’s sad story piques the reader’s curiosity. Much of what Frazier imagines is consistent with the incomplete historical record surrounding Varina, and he fills in the blanks to reveal a powerful personality that, while of her times, has much to say to us today in respect of how the impact of great events on individuals can affect the history of those events." 

"Highly recommended for general readers as well as anyone interested in American history."