Revenants - The Odyssey Home by Scott Kauffman
First published by Moonshine Cove Publishing in America in December 2015.
Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A grief-stricken candy-striper serving in a VA hospital following her brother’s death in Viet Nam struggles to return home an anonymous veteran of the Great War against the skullduggery of a congressman who not only controls the hospital as part of his small-town fiefdom but knows the name of her veteran. A name if revealed would end his political ambitions and his fifty-year marriage. In its retelling of Odysseus’ journey, Revenants casts a flickering candle upon the charon toll exacted not only from the families of those who fail to return home but of those who do.
Every so often one of my indie author reads turns out to be an absolute gem and I am delighted that this was the case with Revenants. The novel is a modern day retelling of Homer's Odyssey, but I admit it has been so long since I read that classic that I didn't identify Kauffman's story with Homer's, nor did I think it needed that distinction as Revenants stands strongly on its own merits. I did have to look up some of the American slang - a candy-striper for example is a young female volunteer at VA hospitals so named for their red and white striped uniforms. And VA is the acronym for Veterans' Affairs, an American government department charged with the care of former military personnel.
In Revenants, Kauffman explores the aftermath of war both on the fighting soldiers and on their friends and families back home. Unusually for American novels I think, his veterans are physically and mentally damaged by their experiences, many horrifically so, and he sensitively presents their plight. The book is set partly in a 1970s hospital and partly in First World War trenches. Perhaps attitudes have changed now, but it was saddening to read of men being feted heroes as they go off to fight and shunned for the injuries incurred in that fighting on their return. Kauffman has his characters comment on the political use of medal pinning at election times while those same men are kept out of sight for the rest of the year.
Revenants is emotional historical fiction and also an ingenious mystery story. As readers we uncover the story of the hidden patient alongside Betsey and her brother. Betsey's story is intriguing too as she tries to assuage her guilt by helping the hidden patient, but cannot forgive herself enough to avoid her own life slipping into delinquency and drug addiction. This unglamorous reality of war is often suppressed when hysterical and jingoistic rhetoric fires up yet another generation to take up arms against each other, but hopefully honest novels such as Revenants will prove memorable and encourage greater debate before new bombs fly.
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Books by Scott Kauffman / Historical fiction / Books from America