Through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program, I received this book in exchange for a review. I read the introduction and prepared myself for a mental slog as I worked myself through a very dull read. Here is a collection of paraphrases in the introduction that turned me off. This book is about the “anti-corruption rebellion against the Sheriff’s Department and the Mayor’s office in Athens, Tennessee by veterans in the aftermath of World War II.” [Kindle 159-160] Good grief, what a narrow focus, what have I gotten myself into with a promise of a review? Then “If the public demands lies, I will gladly deliver them with this second attempt at historical fiction.” [Kindle 171]. Oh, no, this is a second attempt!! She even defined her first attempt as poetry, a genre I avoid. I chose something else to read but resigned myself to come back to this and finish a promised review. This is not yet available in a Kindle format, the image is from Amazon in an alternative format.
The first hint that this was going to be a great read was the author’s following statement, “Historical fiction is an oxymoron, as history is the telling of a true story, and fiction is the telling of a lie; thus, when one writes historical fiction, one is attempting a true lie, and I have not found a dictionary definition for how true the lie has to be.” [Kindle 193-195]. If I had read that far on my first attempt, I would never have abandoned my first reading attempt. That statement foreshadowed the great writing that was to come.
And my title for this blogpost comes from an author observation, “The main ingredients that make fiction easier to digest than history are the compact insertions of sex and violence.” [Kindle 174-175]
Battle for Democracy by Anna Faktorovich
I felt the book could be divided into four divisions. The first four chapters are devoted to the connections and backgrounds of three main characters: George (or Gio), James, and Gui (expressed in different spellings). They are important as the “radicals” and their backgrounds, respectively White, African American, and Native American establish a solid diverse background with a lot of shared sufferings due to economic inequality and racism. Several interesting observations support this.
During WWII in Italy, better educated and equipped pilots lived in luxury compared to Giorgio’s infantry comrades. They had better quarters in rear bases and once bombed infantry colleagues who had sneaked into town. Commanders sanctioned the infantrymen; they weren’t supposed to be there. [Loc 624]
On return after the war, men had saved money. Although not able to obtain employment, Gio’s friends dressed much like colleagues of James. They did not have money for transportation that would allow them to shop outside the areas where they lived. [loc 763]
In this first part of the novel we are introduced to the tools of the establishment that our three heroes will deal with each day, the police and its increasing corruption in attempts to extort money from the veterans, a group that includes Gui.
Beginning with chapter 5, we read of the origins of a corrupt, greedy system that eventually becomes the corrupt police system that sparked the riots on Sparta. There are fascinating observations about cultural evolution.
Mayor Frank Lavendar suffered from a learning disability, in his high school days the disability was known as stupidity, which allowed him to graduate with just enough knowledge to convince people that he had attended and graduated from Harvard. He hadn’t. [loc. 1748] Lavendar’s fabricated education did not hinder his ability to construct elaborate schemes to funnel money to himself and his friends.
Chapter 8 begins part three of the novel which describe the increasing levels and frequency of physical and violent confrontations between the Lavendar group and the “Vets.” Random shoving encounters lead to beatings which lead to shootings. It seems there is a lot of ignorance on the part of the establishment group in that they could not realize they were facing an increasingly hostile numerically superior group. But we have to remember this took place in an atmosphere of the KKK, Jim Crow laws, and a tendency of a rulers, seen as police, with a willingness to draw weapons in response to any offense.
The detailed tactics of voter and election fraud is fascinating. Watch how it plays out today, in 2016, with occasional accusations of voter fraud in primary elections. There has not been much; where there has been some, a closer look reveals similar tactics. It is something for us to look at as we approach the contentious general election.
Chapter 15 begins part four in the aftermath of the “Vets” victory. It is easy to report; it is not a spoiler if it is historical fiction. The aftermath in Sparta is described, but so are the effects in Alabama, in a laundry where workers attempted collective action, and in the declining power of the KKK everywhere. An interesting case is made for election fraud in the case of a Senate election of Lyndon Johnson. While it is generally conceded in historical accounts, it is also interesting that Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is almost as if he knew change was necessary, but someone forgot to tell the political support base. Or maybe it is, “Put me in power by whatever means.” so I can do good.
And then there are the great, up-to-date discussion questions at the end. I am very happy I gave this work a second look.