“Family always comes first, no matter the situation. Your loyalty lies here, in our traditions.” Many people growing up often hear those words and often times take them to the grave. The discussions and themes behind family ties are one of the many pillars discussed in Tragedy and Triumph, a historical fiction novel written by Kathrin Rudland.
Truman Haden is only a boy the night his world his turned upside down and changes forever. He is sent away from his home because his parents are suffering from yellow fever and are close to their deaths. In a letter he receives from his father posthumously, his father preaches to him that he must do everything in his power to fight for the values that the South was founded on, and fight to protect the way of life in the South. The novel takes place before and during the Civil War in America, so these values would be slavery. His world is changed when as a young lawyer he takes a trip to upstate New York to the small town of Elmira, a town known for its anti-slavery stance. There he meets an abolitionist woman named Elizabeth, who proves to be the polar opposite of his own views politically, but is a worthy match nonetheless. He loves debating her, and they often argue. As time goes by, the issue of slavery further divides the nation. Incidents happen that make Truman wonder whether or not he can stay loyal to the pledge he took as a boy, or whether he should consider changing. What unfolds while making his decision is an epic novel of loyalty and historical facts.
I will say that as a history major and history buff, I LOVED this novel. From the first chapter, beginning with how Truman’s life was turned upside down, to the promise he made, and finally to reading about his journey overall, I was completely enthralled. I enjoyed reading it so much that often times I kept finding myself saying “five more pages,” which turned into five more, and ended in me finally forcing myself to go to bed. Ms. Rudland paints just a vivid picture that allows the reader to see the story unfold right before his/her eyes and feel the true emotions of the characters. In the section describing the different abolitionists and detailing Elizabeth’s first time helping out with the underground railroad, I felt my heart beat out of my chest because I was nervous that she would be caught. The details of how people would get their next assignment on the underground railroad and how they had to be careful to avoid being watched was something I was not aware of. I was glad that these facts were included because it made the story that more realistic and really drew the reader in. I felt like I was in the story with Elizabeth waiting to get my assignment, wondering if someone was watching me as a spy.
The way the novel was written is very similar to a film such as Crash or 21 Grams, where there are many plots that all collide into one central plot. Many times a new character would be introduced, whether it be a slave, abolitionist, or soldier. I loved seeing the connection of this new character back to the main plot line or to Truman. Every time a new character was introduced, I had an “ahhh” moment when I was finally able to relate the character back to Truman, which helped the story evolve and took the story telling to another level. I loved seeing the different characters connect at different times throughout the plot. It really made me think of six degrees of separation. The author did an excellent job of introducing characters and making you care about each character, whether he/she had good qualities or bad. I often think that we don’t care about supporting characters (or characters who only have a couple of chapters dedicated to them) because we’re so focused on the main characters around whom the story revolves. However, because this story was so character driven, without those supporting characters the novel would’ve fallen asleep.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is just getting interested in the Civil War or someone who has a serious interest in American History. Although the main story is fiction, the facts are very real. The author’s writing style and the characters will make you invested in this book, so be prepared for some late nights.
6 out of 5 Stars
Tragedy and Triumph by Kathrin Rudland
Paperback 244 pages
Special thanks to Courtney at Author Solutions for my review copy!