The War Within

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Matas, Carol. The War Within. 2001. New York: Aladdin, 2002.

Narrator Hannah Green is the daughter of a slaveholding Jewish merchant in 1860s Mississippi. Hannah is an ardent Confederate sympathizer. When occupying Union troops – among them a charming Jewish officer – seem humane enough, Hannah's sister Joanna finds her views on region and race changing, but Hannah is still a fire-eater with strong white-supremacist opinions. It takes an order from General Grant, expelling all Jews from his theatre of war, to make Hannah see that all prejudices are misguided.

By making Hannah a thoroughly reactionary character to start with, Matas avoids the problem of reading 21st century ideals back into 19th-century characters in too facile a way. She also portrays a hard-won change of values plausibly. The novel's only weakness is perhaps its talkiness; characters supposed to be on the run for their lives seem to have ample time to chew over the rights of man, the nature of prejudice, and many another abstract moral problem.


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