Sunday, April 08, 2012

Fire on the Mountain by Terry Bisson (Arbor House 1988)


Maybe I'm just homesick, Yasmin thought. She was flooded with a sudden desire, almost frightening in its intensity, to see her little wood-frame ochre house on the canal in Charleston.

They stopped to top off the battery, and Grissom phoned the old lady's house. Yasmin noticed that people down here talked a little more like Grissom and a little less like her mother-in-law. The African-softened accent of the border was noticeably beginning to give way to the harsh Northern twang.

But Laura May Hunter still lived on the border. The first thing Yasmin saw when the uniformed day nurse let her and Grissom into the little house was a tinted picture of Abraham Lincoln on the wall.

Lincoln was a Whig, backed by U.S. capital, who had organised a fifth column of Southern whites to support an invasion of Nova Africa in 1870, right after the Independence War. If the whites couldn't keep the slaves, they at least wanted the land back. Though the invaders had been routed at the Battle of Shoat's Bend without crossing the Cumberland River, "One nation indivisible" had become a rallying cry for white nationalists on both sides of the border. The next five years, 1870-75, were as close to a civil war as Nova Africa was to see. When it began, the new nation south of the Tennessee River was 42 percent white; when it ended, it was 81 percent black. In the U.S., veterans and descendants of the "Exitus" formed the racist backbone of the rightist movements for years: in the Bible Wars of the 1920s, the Homestead Rebellion, even in the Second Revolutionary War of '48. In Nova Africa the whites who embraced (or made their peace with) socialism were called "comebacks" - even if they had never left - and Lincoln was no hero to them; but before his body had even been cut down in 1871, he had become a legend among the border whites in Kentucky, Virginia and parts of Missouri.

Apparently he still was.

Yasmin pointed the picture out to Grissom, who nodded, then shrugged. "The Lost Cause," he whispered.

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