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Publisher's Summary

In his powerful fourth novel, Charles Frazier returns to the time and place of Cold Mountain, vividly bringing to life the chaos and devastation of the Civil War.

With her marriage prospects limited, teenage Varina Howell agrees to wed the much-older widower Jefferson Davis, with whom she expects a life of security as a Mississippi landowner. He instead pursues a career in politics and is eventually appointed president of the Confederacy, placing Varina at the white-hot center of one of the darkest moments in American history - culpable regardless of her intentions.

The Confederacy falling, her marriage in tatters, and the country divided, Varina and her children escape Richmond and travel south on their own, now fugitives with "bounties on their heads, an entire nation in pursuit."

Intimate in its detailed observations of one woman's tragic life and epic in its scope and power, Varina is a novel of an American war and its aftermath. Ultimately, the audiobook is a portrait of a woman who comes to realize that complicity carries consequences.

©2018 3 Crows Corporation (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

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What listeners say about Varina

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Read it rather than listen

Ever since I read Cold Mountain so many years ago now, I look forward to anything C. Frazier writes.
I wish I had bought the book rather than this Audible version.
When listening, the author's words are inevitably intertwined with the expression and the pacing of the reader. A good reader, imbues passages with life, pauses, reveals, and inhabits the work.
Sadly, I did not find this in Varina.
The book is written in the first person, so that the reader's voice is Varina's, and therefore particularly important that the reader 'get' Varina. This reader's voice, at least here, is almost relentlessly mellifluous. It almost surprised me when I realized that Varina, the character, is independent, strong-willed, and profoundly perceptive.
I am not expert in late 19th century southern accents, but the voice was also not the voice of a Southern, well-read woman (at least not at all like the voices of the Southern women I know). While the lack of a regional accent is hardly essential, it might have helped, and would have added to the beauty of the narration.
OK, I had a hard time sticking with the book. Frazier is a great author, and I kept asking myself, who am I to criticize. Finally, during the latter fourth of the book, it occurred to me to disregard the reader, and to imagine the words on paper, springing off the page for me. It was only then that I sensed the lyrical beauty of its passages.
Bottom line--I wish I had read the book, rather than listened to it on Audible.

10 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The reader and writer had me at hello

This was one those book that when you start you do not want to stop until it is finished. I have loved all of Charles Frazier's book and the reader of this book ranks in my best ever category. Varina is so rich in history and beautiful descriptions and tells the story of an independent woman who stood her own in the midst of an awful time of our history. A masterpiece in storytelling and historical record. Thank you to both writer and reader for for this piece of art.

7 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Non linear story arc is always a problem for me

This is what I liked about the audiobook:
1. The narrator was spectacular. I can't listen to fake, breathless, or over the top southern accents. Molly Parker was pitch perfect for Varina.
2. Varina Howell Davis is a little known figure in the Confederacy, and this book sheds some light on her life, and her husbands life, too. I didn't know that Jefferson Davis had been a US Congressman first, and the part about her going to Washington, DC as the wife of a congressmen when she was 18 years old was one of my favorite parts.
3. Opium. Now I know how people got through a lot of trials and tribulations in those days. But then it was outlawed to cure the addiction problem it created in users. (I think there may be a lesson in here, but that's for another book.)
4. Frazier captures Varina as a glorious, and a very young woman, placed in a difficult time. Her voice is one of a woman with a contrary, determined nature and a wicked sense of humor.
What I didn't like about the audiobook:
1. The non-linear format. Towards the middle of the book, I began to lose the thread of the plot. It also got tedious due to the repetition.
2. The narration and the scenes were often contradictory. The reader is told how dangerous the trip to Florida is and that there is no food, no water, and everything is burned out. And yet everyone they encounter is nice, and their friends houses are still standing, and they are well-fed. And she is able to obtain opium along the way. The journey didn't seem as difficult as the reader is told over and over again.
In the end, I felt the book had brilliant and illuminating writing in many places, but the weak parts brought it down to a mediocre work of historical fiction for me.
That said, I can't wait for the movie!

7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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What a treat from start to finish

I knew nothing about Varina and next to nothing about Jefferson Davis and this was a wonderful opportunity to learn about them in a way both empathetic and damning at the same time. Fraiziers writing and Parker’s narration are perfectly suited to each other. The length of the book also seemed just right to escape to for a time but didn’t feel like a long march.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Outstanding!

Charles Frazier at his best, weaving history into a fascinating study of individuals in a time of crisis - a remarkable book!

7 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book, but

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

No, the narrator is wonderful, but even she can't save the story. The novel jumps back and forth across time in what appears to be a non-linear fashion making the book hard to follow. Additionally, I simply could not become interested. After making it almost halfway through I gave up. Life is too short to force myself to finish a book when there are others begging to be read.

What do you think your next listen will be?

The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel

11 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Good but not up to its billing.

First, this book is not close to the quality as Cold Mountain. It is interesting but can get you confused because it jumps back and forth in time. There are very interesting parts but not enough to keep the reader’s interest.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A great piece of historical fiction

This was a wonderfully engaging story about which I knew very little previously. Great narration.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Awful narration

The narrator used a monotonous tone throughout, making it difficult to differentiate which character was talking. She seems not to have read the book herself. Words, especially proper nouns, were mispronounced all through the book, and her inflections are extremely awkward. I finished the book only because I was reading it for a book club.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Distinctly Southern

This is a deeply touching story about Varina Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. It presents her in a rich complex of thought, feeling, relationships at many levels, and historical events. Frazier’s gently paced, detailed writing is a pleasure, as always. The narration by Molly Parker is a very good fit. I will likely come back for another listen.

1 person found this helpful