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White Doves at Morning: A Novel [Hardcover]

James Lee Burke
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 22 2002
For years, critics have acclaimed the power of James Lee Burke's writing, the luminosity of his prose, the psychological complexity of his characters, the richness of his landscapes. Over the course of twenty novels and one collection of short stories, he has developed a loyal and dedicated following among both critics and general readers. His thrillers, featuring either Louisiana cop Dave Robicheaux or Billy Bob Holland, a hardened Texas-based lawyer, have consistently appeared on national bestseller lists, making Burke one of America's most celebrated authors of crime fiction. Now, in a startling and brilliantly successful departure, Burke has written a historical novel -- an epic story of love, hate, and survival set against the tumultuous background of the Civil War and Reconstruction. At the center of the novel are James Lee Burke's own ancestors, Robert Perry, who comes from a slave-owning family of wealth and privilege, and Willie Burke, born of Irish immigrants, a poor boy who is as irreverent as he is brave and decent. Despite their personal and political conflicts with the issues of the time, both men join the Confederate Army, choosing to face ordeal by fire, yet determined not to back down in their commitment to their moral beliefs, to their friends, and to the abolitionist woman with whom both have become infatuated. One of the most compelling characters in the story, and the catalyst for much of its drama, is Flower Jamison, a beautiful young black slave befriended, at great risk to himself, by Willie and owned by -- and fathered by, although he will not admit it -- Ira Jamison. Owner of Angola Plantation, Ira Jamison is a true son of the Old South and alsoa ruthless businessman, who, after the war, returns to the plantation and re-energizes it by transforming it into a penal colony, which houses prisoners he rents out as laborers to replace the slaves who have been emancipated. Against all local law and customs, Flower learns from Willie to read and write, and receives the help and protection of Abigail Dowling, a Massachusetts abolitionist who had come south several years prior to help fight yellow fever and never left, and who has attracted the eye of both Willie and Robert Perry. These love affairs are not only fraught with danger, but compromised by the great and grim events of the Civil War and its aftermath. As in all of Burke's writings, "White Doves at Morning" is full of wonderful, colorful, unforgettable villains. Some, like Clay Hatcher, are pure "white trash" (considered the lowest of the low, they were despised by the white ruling class and feared by former slaves). From their ranks came the most notorious of the vigilante groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the White League and the Knights of the White Camellia. Most villainous of all, though, are the petty and mean-minded Todd McCain, owner of New Iberia's hardware store, and the diabolically evil Rufus Atkins, former overseer of Angola Plantation and the man Jamison has placed in charge of his convict labor crews. Rounding out this unforgettable cast of characters are Carrie LaRose, madam of New Iberia's house of ill repute, and her ship's-captain brother Jean-Jacques LaRose, Cajuns who assist Flower and Abigail in their struggle to help the blacks of the town. With battle scenes at Shiloh and in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia that no reader will everforget, and set in a time of upheaval that affected all men and all women at all levels of society, "White Doves at Morning" is an epic worthy of America's most tragic conflict, as well as a book of substance, importance, and genuine originality, one that will undoubtedly come to be regarded as a masterpiece of historical fiction.

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From Publishers Weekly

Following the publication of his 11th Dave Robicheaux thriller, bestselling Burke (Bitterroot; Purple Cane Road) keeps the action in Louisiana, turning back the clock to the Civil War. Central to this brooding saga are hotheaded young idealist Willie Burke, son of a boardinghouse owner, and a beautiful slave girl named Flower Jamison. She is the illegitimate daughter of Ira Jamison, the callous owner of the infamous Angola Plantation. Flower's mother was murdered by a brutal overseer, Rufus Atkins, just after she gave birth, and Rufus has been a malevolent presence in Flower's life ever since. Secretly taught to read and write by Willie Burke, she now does laundry for the town brothel. Befriended by Abigail Dowling, a young Yankee abolitionist who is helping slaves escape the South, Flower clings to the hope that Jamison will acknowledge her as his daughter; meanwhile, Jamison has his eye on Abigail. The war gets into full swing, and Willie loses his best friend at Shiloh because of Jamison's cowardly dereliction. Wounded and left to die, Willie is saved by Abigail, who brings him home and nurses him back to health. Against her protests, he attempts to return to battle but is taken captive and-the war now over-escapes to confront racist vigilantes intent on shutting down Flower's school for ex-slaves. Burke has created a cast of strong, if somewhat stereotypical, characters; readers will warm to outspoken, irrepressible Willie as much as they deplore the evil Atkins. Although at times a bit forced, this moving morality play shows a different dimension of this gifted writer.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In a departure from his mystery novels featuring Dave Robicheaux and Billy Bob Holland, Burke describes New Iberia, LA, during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Young Willie Burke (an ancestor of the author) and two friends join the Confederate army despite their doubts about some aspects of the Cause, while in New Iberia Abigail Dowling, a nurse from Massachusetts, struggles to act on her abolitionist beliefs. Abigail befriends Flower, a young slave who has been secretly taught to read by Willie, and thus angers plantation owner Ira Jamison (Flower's owner and biological father) and his overseer. In lyrical and evocative prose, Burke depicts both the boredom and horror of army life and the injustices visited upon blacks and poor whites by the "haves" in Southern society. He starkly conveys the desperation felt by those who have no power or voice and vividly creates a sense of place and character. This novel parallels Paulette Jiles's successful Enemy Women in its literary quality and use of family stories for background, but diehard fans of Burke's mysteries may not be interested. Recommended for medium and large public libraries and where Civil War novels are popular.
--Ann Fleury, Tampa-Hillsborough Cty. P.L., FL
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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First Sentence
THE black woman's name was Sarie, and when she crashed out the door of the cabin at the end of the slave quarters into the fading winter light, her lower belly bursting with the child that had already broken her water, the aftermath of the ice storm and the sheer desolate sweep of leaf-bare timber and frozen cotton acreage and frost-limned cane stalks seemed to combine and strike her face like a braided whip. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Burke's Best Jan. 13 2003
Format:Hardcover
White Doves at Morning has the stark beauty and vivid imagery of all Burke's novels, but not it's strong plot. The many characters introduced are never fully developed beyond a few central personalities. No one can compare to James Lee Burke when he discribes with similes and all five senses the character's surroundings, in this novel the Cival War, but his similies wear thin in one passage as he strings one after the other and seems to lose his point. The hero of the story, Willie Burke, is in the vein of Billy Bob and Dave, heroes of Burke's two wonderful series, but one doesn't feel any greater empathy for Willie by having known him so well through Burke's other strong, defiant characters. The story ends rather abruptly and does not rap up the lose edges as cleanly as a fan of Burke's would expect. The story is a decent one if the reader does have expectations after having read Burke's other, nearly perfect novels. But a new reader of Burke should consider reading a second novel of his before judging his abilities on just this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Heroes June 13 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
In a departure from Burke's spellbinding Dave Robicheaux mysteries, James Lee Burke aims his lyrical prose at historical fiction, taking on the American Civil War. Leaning on family ties - reluctant Confederate soldier Willie Burke is the author's ancestor - Burke's antebellum south is a dark and somber place, ripe with suffering, death, and inequity. At its best, it is a compelling portrait of the horrors of our Civil War, capturing in vivid and brutal detail the battles of Shiloh and Shenandoah Valley. Some will recall Stephen Crane's "Red Badge of Courage", as young Willie Burke wanders dazed behind enemy lines in search of his unit. In the carnage of the battlefield, the suffering among the filth, disease, and severed limbs of field hospital charnel houses, the reader will ask, "did we really do this to our own countrymen?" At its worst, "White Doves at Morning" slips into preachy stereotype: the corrupt plantation owner, the noble slave, the evil overseer. But through it all, Burke tells the story with his own brand of passionate prose, stating his views with power and clarity, while limiting his palette only to shades of gray and black. Notwithstanding, Burke's characters as always are strongly developed, flawed and vulnerable, and ultimately believable. "White Doves" delivers precious little "feel good" closure and little in the way of redemption, instead shining an all-too bright light on a period of American history most of us would just as soon pretend never happened. While not a perfect effort, "White Doves" is a powerful novel, demonstrating Burke's versatility and adding further proof that he is perhaps the most talented living American writer of fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but overbaked May 21 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I've enjoyed many of James Lee Burke's Robicheaux novels (and intend to enjoy more of them) so I jumped into the Civil War-era novel "White Doves" eagerly, but was ultimately disappointed.
Burke seems to have lost the tight control of his best work; this book feels overwritten and underplotted, dealing with a small group of angst-ridden characters acting out dramas of oppression and revenge against the backdrop of the war and its aftermath. The pot boils, and boils, and boils some more, but as the pages turned I found myself thinking "Just get on with it and stop the DRAMA, please!"
There are quite a few good moments, but this isn't prime stuff. Maybe the historical genre just isn't Burke's forte.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listen to the Southern Whisper March 3 2004
By rokkit
Format:Audio CD
This review is based on the audio book, NOT the written word. I thought it might make a good companion on a long trip to visit relatives. Everything you look for in the writing of James Lee Burke comes through--AND MORE. Will Patton is the most amazing reader of audio books I have ever listened too. After several hours in the car as we approached our distination I found myself slowing down and avoiding the direct route to try to finish listening before arriving--sadly, my wife caught me, so the conclusion had to wait until after the visit. Even if you've read the book, Patton makes it worth a listen, too. His accents are dead on the Louisiana dialect Burke writes!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This was a good story and my first time reading a Burke novel. Perhaps for white America it all rings true to a certain degree. But as an African American female who has a 99 year old mother who throughout her life related recollections from her mother and grandmother(who lived through slavery) the Flower Jamison's character was nowhere near the mark. One could compare it to the way that blacks and whites viewed the O.J. Simpson's verdict. Through his writings I felt that Burke doesn't have a clue about black folks souls and I do get tired of the cliches. But then this is white HIStory.
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3.0 out of 5 stars farfetched in spots Sept. 21 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I think the part of the book that makes the least sense is that Flower Jamison's father would ever acknowledge her as his daughter. In that time period white plantation owners just didn't do that. That she was able to become free and read and write without more problems from the people in the area is hard to accept as well.
The depiction of the Civil War I think was accurate, it wasn't portrayed as at all glamorous. Some parts of it were good.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Louisiana and Confederacy
Although at times the characters seem stilted on further reading
find entire scenario of interest.
Published on July 21 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Masterful
Just because the usual characters aren't here, don't pass this one by. History, colorful characterizations and plenty of action, together with Burke's skillful language, make this... Read more
Published on Feb. 17 2003 by John Bowes
4.0 out of 5 stars Struggles of the South
White Doves at Morning shows a complete different way of thinking. Being raised a Yank, you are taught that North is good, South is bad. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2003 by Mary Symosky
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling
James Lee Burke's "White Doves at Morning" is richly written, peopled with well-drawn characters and beautifully atmospheric. Read more
Published on Feb. 1 2003 by nobizinfla
3.0 out of 5 stars Reminds one of Owen Parry
Willie Burke, James Lee's ancestor, shares billing in WHITE DOVES AT MORNING with Abigail Dowling, an abolitionist from Massachusetts who had traveled south to minister to Yellow... Read more
Published on Dec 29 2002 by Dave Schwinghammer
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
This book is a good read. It does not tell both sides of the story of the Civil War. It does give you an insight of the terrible time when our country fought against one another.
Published on Dec 27 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars The present and the past
Same high quality product, just a different flavor:
This novel rates five stars for high quality but four (maybe fewer) for readers who expect more Robicheaux adventures or... Read more
Published on Dec 8 2002 by Charles J. Marr
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