Debut Novel Explores Life Of Black Cavalryman
Melissa BLOCK, host:
The Civil War is one of the most examined events in U.S. history, but a new novel goes over some fairly unexplored territory: the ordinary life of a black cavalryman. That's the subject of �Gloryland,� the debut novel by Shelton Johnson.
Here's our reviewer Alan Cheuse.
ALAN CHEUSE: Elijah Yancy has too much of a sense of justice and too hot a temper to survive in his hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, or so his father wants him.
As soon as he's old enough, Yancy, who's witnessed the lynching and his father's own defeat in the face of racial bullying, lights out, as Huck Finn once put it, for the territory ahead. He hikes all the way to Nebraska, joins the U.S. Cavalry there and sees a large part of the best parts of our own country and serves in the occupation of the Philippines.
At the end of his tour, he gets posted to a new national park in California called Yosemite. Along the way, this buffalo soldier learns about horse wrangling, meets bullies, sees a president up close, meets a bear and ascends as close to heaven as a man can get when he takes up that post in Yosemite.
So much of what happens never gets written down, but you still can't forget it, Yancy says, in this quietly told, loosely plotted, which is to say pretty much, episodic first novel. What he does write about makes for strong memories. Yancy discovers America and himself. And his seemingly ordinary story has the effect of becoming a book-length meditation on the age-old question of freedom versus slavery. It also includes some handy instructions on how to train a horse for duty in the cavalry, a rather wonderful mix.
BLOCK: That's our reviewer Alan Cheuse. The novel is called �Gloryland� by Shelton Johnson.
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