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on July 22, 2012 :
Canawlers by Jim Rada ***** (Five Stars)
Book Review by David Galster
The story is about the Fitzgerald family, who operated a boat on the Chesapeake & Ohio canal during the Civil War. The well-developed plot has multiple threads and includes the adventures of Tony, the illegitimate son of a "Shanty Town" prostitute, and David Windover, a Confederate Lieutenant sent to scout possible crossing sites along the Potomac River. Not only is there conflict between the Union and the South, but between the "Railroaders" and "Canawlers," as well. Naturally, there is also conflict between man and "Mother Nature."
The protagonist, Hugh Fitzgerald, is captain of the Freeman, and his entire family accompanies him on trips between Cumberland and Georgetown, Maryland. He strongly believes in freedom, hard work, and family. With his wife Alice's help, he sometimes had helped runaway slaves passing through the "Underground Railroad."
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal ran parallel to the Potomac River and the main traffic was boats hauling coal from Cumberland to Washington, D.C. The novel gives much interesting information about the canal and its history. This includes detailed descriptions of the boats, and the mules that pull them, as well as the towpath, and the various towns, and locks along the way.
The writing is very clear and understandable. It was very easy for me to follow and stay focused on the story line. The imagery is vivid and the story includes a lot of action.
Hugh Fitzgerald represents an American ideal man for that time. He was good, honest, hardworking, and had no vices or faults. Perhaps the author intended to represent him as an ideal, rather than real person. This characterization is consistent with the Romanticism tradition. (Victor Hugo's novels are an example of this style.)
David Windover, in contrast, is a spoiled, pampered son of a rich plantation owner. However, he "evolves," and after seeing the horrors of war, develops a more humanitarian point of view, and in doing so, transforms into a hero.
The dialect is much cleaner than people in Civil War times used. The word "ain't" never appears. Some Negro dialect would be more realistic, and add interest. Ruth, the runaway slave girl, spoke very little, which is understandable. But, when she did, she sounds no different than a polite English teacher. A moderate dialect, like, "Ah sho do thank you ma'am," could have been used without compromising the story.
Overall, the novel is very exciting and informative. It maintains good tension, and has many surprises along the way. I highly recommend it.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)