by Chris M. Poole, Associate Director Academic Computing Services, SUNY Cortland, May 29, 2008

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Peter Charles Melman, Landsman
: A Novel (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2007. Pp. 325. Reading group Guide.)


Landsman is a work of historical fiction set in the Civil War. On the surface it is a story about young man, Jewish by birth, a product of the darker streets of New Orleans, who finds himself embroiled in the horrors of the cruel and gruesome civil war battlefield, in need of redemption from his past. In reality, it is a very personal and profound telling of this man’s journey of soul from dire spiritual poverty and emptiness to true freedom and authentic nobility.

Landsman is a deeply provocative book that could be titled Everyman. Although the Civil War, fought to end slavery, is Melman’s setting, the real story is about the war we fight within ourselves. Melman’s main character, Elias Abrams, after being involved in particularly heinous crime, flees his past as part of a notorious gang of hoodlums that terrorizes the denizens of the underside of New Orleans. Abrams soon finds himself on the Confederate front lines confronted with the grotesqueness of war. It’s here that the stirrings of the need for redemption begin as do the battles to end perhaps the greatest slavery of all, oppression of self. In Melman’s description of the battlefield, its harshness, ugliness and gory brutality we see what could well be, at some point in own lives, the condition of our soul. Elias’ ascent from the depths begins with the recognition of power of love in his life; the eternal love of his deceased mother, a comrade who becomes his new friend, father, brother and mentor and an unlikely romantic beginning with a young New Orleans lady. This growing love in young Abram’s life provides the strength and courage for him to slay his personal demons, metaphorically and otherwise, that ironically include Silas Wolfe who was a “once –true friend, a hero, a mastermind, a brother and a father , a tragedy, a crime, a love, (now) his very worst enemy.” A bullet through Wolfe’s heart finally frees Elias to achieve, through an ending that will surprise you, a genuine redemption that brings the peace and true nobility of soul that he longs for.

This is a good read that caused a great deal of personal reflection for this reviewer. I was however disappointed that although Melman touches on his main character’s Jewish ethnicity, he never really brings its relevance to fruition.

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