White Doves at Morning by James Lee Burke: A Short Review of a Civil War Novel

Today I finished my read of James Lee Burke’s White Doves at Morning (Pocket Star Books, New York, 2002.  It is a novel, a New York Times Best Seller.  The back cover has this tag: “A Riveting evocation of the Civil War, drawn from the true family history of ‘America’s best novelist” (The Denver Post). As my blog has revealed from time to time, I read everything I can about the Civil War. While I’m most used to Burke’s detective novels, I was quite taken and quite surprised by this one. When I read something of the Civil War, I expect to run into the same tired old stereotypes (i.e.,Yankees all good and love all people, Southerners all bad and rascists). Burke surprised me though by a balanced and brutally honest treatment of both sides of the War and the people involved – Confederate and Federal, black and white – and masterfully word-painted touching societal and individual human portraits that I will never forget.  The novel is rich in historical allusions and details that could only have come from extensive research. The novel addresses many great themes related to the Civil War and the human condition and weaves stories of love, redemption, courage and fear, and politics to remind us of all that war did to us and how it changed us. I read several chapters before I realized that Burke’s heart was really in this story, that it was more than just a good tale. In short, if you like reading about America’s Civil War, I’d encourage you to read this novel.

As usual when I read Burke, my hand was busy underlining phrases and sentences–too many to list in this short review. However, here is one of the many that caught my eye with its profound insights:

“The denigrators and revisionists would eventually have their way with history, as they always did, Robert Thought, but for those who participated in the [Civil] war, it would remain the most important grand and transforming experience in their lives” (p. 379).