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Staff Pick
Varina: A Novel

Varina: A Novel

Current price: $27.99
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018

Staff Reviews

Charles Frazier’s latest book, Varina, returns to the time period of his earlier best-selling novel, Cold Mountain. The book, a fictional retelling of parts of Varina Jefferson’s life, powerfully evokes the chaos and destruction in the aftermath of the civil war.

Seventeen-year-old Varina, the book’s namesake, marries the much older widower, Jefferson Davis, expecting to live out her life on a Mississippi plantation. Instead, her husband takes up politics, eventually becoming president of the Confederacy. As the Confederacy falls, Varina, her children and a small band of helpers, flee Richmond and head for Florida, with a plan to take a boat to Cuba, and then on to Europe. With bounties on their heads, and the widespread belief that they are running off with the last of the Confederacy’s gold, the fugitives are chased across the country by motley groups of union soldiers and bounty hunters.

Central to the story is the relationship between Varina and James. James is a homeless black boy whom Varina adopts on impulse after feeling guilty about abandoning a young slave girl being sold away from her family. Varina raises James as one of her own, prompting many raised eyebrows amongst her friends and acquaintances, and he is part of the group that flees Richmond with her at the end of the war. The book begins with an elderly Varina, coming down to the lobby of the Saratoga Springs hotel where she now lives to meet James, whom she last saw decades ago. Over the next few weeks, James visits Varina each Sunday, and Varina relates her experiences of their flight. Through the telling, Frazier thoughtfully examines the nature of ownership and property. He explores key questions about the choices we make and the consequences that result from complicity. Varina is a powerful, compelling read.

— Phil

In the elegant and compelling prose that made Cold Mountain an award-winning bestseller, Charles Frazier brings to life Varina Howell Davis, the wife of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Varina is told in two voices: Varina's and Jimmie Limber's, the black boy she raises as a son and is forced to abandon as she and her children flee Richmond while the Confederacy crumbles. When Jimmie and Varina reunite years later and relive the cataclysmic events of the war years, they examine the morality and consequences of Varina's - and a nation's - choices. As great literature often does, this novel forced me to look at my own actions and attitudes with a more critical eye.

Sarah Goddin, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC
April 2018 Indie Next List


Sooner or later, history asks, which side were you on?

In his powerful new novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War

Her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects the secure life of a Mississippi landowner. Davis instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the white-hot center of one of the darkest moments in American history—culpable regardless of her intentions.

The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with “bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit.”

Intimate in its detailed observations of one woman’s tragic life and epic in its scope and power, Varina is a novel of an American war and its aftermath. Ultimately, the book is a portrait of a woman who comes to realize that complicity carries consequences.


About the Author

Charles Frazier is the author of Cold Mountain, an international bestseller that won the National Book Award and was adapted into an Academy-Award winning film by Anthony Minghella. He is also the author of the bestselling novels Thirteen Moons and Nightwoods.

Praise for Varina: A Novel

“No writer today crafts more exquisite sentences than Charles Frazier.” — USA Today

“Frazier works on an epic scale, but his genius is in the details--he has a scholar’s command of the physical realities of early America and a novelist’s gift for bringing them to life.” — Time

“Charles Frazier’s feeling for the Southern landscape is reverential and beautifully composed.” — New York Review of Books

“Perfectly evocative . . . A finely wrought novel that will reward rereading. 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.” — Washington Post

“Beautifully rendered…Frazier in this, his fourth novel, lyrically resurrects the blasted but hauntingly beautiful Southern landscape just after the war...Varina Davis becomes a marvelously fallible character, complicated enough to stand on her compromised own.” — The New York Times