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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Seeing Glory: A Novel of Family Strife, Faith, and the American Civil War by Bruce Gardner is the towering story of a family caught up in the clash between two vastly different ideologies, concerning the role of slaves in American society before the American Civil War. The Hodges were a proud, Southern plantation-owning family from Virginia, who had toiled to create a wealthy estate that owed much of its success, as indeed did the South’s entire economy, to the use of slave labor. Following the death of the lady of the house, it fell to the three children, David, Catherine, and Emma, to assist their father to continue the tradition of great Southern plantations. Storm clouds were on the horizon as the abolitionists fought to convince the government that slavery was an abomination both morally and in God’s eyes. All three children had different outlooks on the practice. Princeton-educated David was firmly in the abolitionist camp, Catherine’s viewpoint followed her father’s in that well-treated slaves were happy just to be working, housed, fed, and safe, whereas Emma’s care, concern, and indeed love for the individual slaves on their property, especially Sallie, meant her views were often at odds with those of Catherine and her father. The coming war would tear this family apart, as it no doubt did many families from the South. All three siblings must, at some point, make a stand for or against the Confederacy.
Seeing Glory is an extremely powerful and emotional read. Bruce Gardner has crafted a wonderful story of the conflicting emotions and motivations around the time, seamlessly melded into real events, historical Civil War battles, and names that even today, resonate through history such as Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Stonewall Jackson. What I particularly enjoyed about this story was the careful thought, consideration, and discussion that the characters engaged in while debating the merits of slavery and abolition. The attempts by both sides to rationalize their particular stance on slavery using the Bible and their faith were equally fascinating as each party was able to come up with diametrically opposed views. Despite the wonderful ideological debates, readers should not lose sight of the fact that this story also takes us inside the Union Army, as they fight their way down the U.S, in historical battles to try to crush the rebellious Confederacy. It also allows us to experience the life of both a plantation owner’s family and the lives and thoughts of the slaves on that plantation. It is as much about love and hope as it is about war and evil and that’s what drew me in as a reader. That so much of the perspective of this novel allows for the expression of the slaves' dreams, aspirations, fears, hopes, and cruel realities is a real credit to the author’s skill at creating a moving, yet also intensely exciting narrative. This is one of the best Civil War novels I have read and I can highly recommend it.