Bring the Jubilee
by Ward Moore
Review by Sam Lubell
Open Road Media Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: 9781504044639
Date: 06 June 2017 List Price $11.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
HBO is taking some criticism on social media for a proposed new alternate history show in which the South won the Civil War. Perhaps they should take some cues from the very first alternate history (well mostly) novel to use this idea – Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee first published in 1955.
Hodgins Backmaker, the first person narrator of the story lives in a version of the United States still stuck in a depression in the 1930s from having lost the War of Southron Independence in 1864. Apparently influenced by post-WWI Germany, Moore paints a picture of a backward North perpetually impoverished from being forced to pay indemnities to the South. While the U.S. does not have slaves, non-whites are routinely lynched, denied equal rights, and blamed for the war. Whites do not live much better as most people have to sell themselves as indentured servants to a company, emigrate to a more successful country, or join the Confederate Legion and fight for the South. The United States is technologically backward as well, with few minibiles (their version of the automobile) and no transcontinental railroad line (the Confederate States have seven).
Hodgins grows up a dreamer with little manual dexterity. He prefers to read and think. Lacking money for college, he decides to relieve his parents of the burden of supporting him by setting out for New York. After being robbed of all his possessions, Hodgins is aided by a drunk who helps him find a position at a bookstore. There he educates himself with the aid of the bookstore owner who is always willing to discuss history and philosophy. Gradually he realizes that the bookstore is a front for the Grand Army, a terrorist group that is trying to restore the country to greatness, but who believe "The darkies are better off among their own". Ultimately, he finds his way to a group of independent scholars, not affiliated with any university, and becomes a historian who writes about the Civil War.
It is worth noting that considering the book was published in 1955, it avoids much of the prejudice of the day. In part, this is a result of being set in the North, rather than in the victorious Confederacy where he would encounter slaves . But it is also a deliberate choice by the author--Hodgins' best friend is a Negro, Monsieur Rene Enfandin, the Consul for the Republic of Haiti. And while there are only a handful of women in the book, all flawed in different ways, one is a genius inventor.
Since the very first sentence says the narrator is writing his account in 1877, despite being born in 1921, the reader should not be shocked to learn that time travel is involved. And while the surprise twist may seem old hat today, used on more than one episode of Quantum Leap among others, it was fresh and new when Moore invented it in 1955.
While the modern reader does need some historical perspective to enjoy the book, this is largely because the book is a victim of its own success. Many of the ideas here have been subsequently borrowed and developed by other authors. But there is still some value in reading the original "South wins the Civil War" novel. Readers who like alternate history need to read this classic of the subgenre.