3 out of 4 stars
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I do not read much historical fiction, but I do find the Civil War Era to be an interesting and unique time period to read about. Journey Through Hell Almost to Heaven by Mel King gives the reader an unusual perspective of the war as seen from a military medic. Henry Freeman, the main character, experiences all the horrors of war from the violence to families torn apart to illness and starvation. He also sees the fear and anger of soldiers facing a choice between certain death or debilitating amputation surgery. Henry was often the focus of their anger as he worked on the front lines.
Henry’s life began as the son of a doctor in Cleveland, Ohio. Henry goes to college and learns new practices about sanitation. He tries to bring this knowledge back to his father’s practice where he recently saw a patient die from infection after a surgery where his father had not washed his hands or the instruments as was common practice at the time. Meanwhile, the war is revving up between the North and the South. Eventually, Henry leaves medical school to join the infantry. However, he is a poor soldier. When his superiors learn of his medical training, they gladly transfer him to the Medical Corps. As a military doctor, Henry faces many personal and professional conflicts. He has to adjust to the realities of lack of supplies, lack of trained assistants, and even boredom at times. The last is quickly overcome when Henry faces the battle scene for the first time. He is horrified by the realities of triage such as giving men pain medication and leaving them to die so he can work on others who have more chance of survival. Henry helps perform hundreds of amputation surgeries as he is cursed by the patients. These voices and the cries of the dying will always haunt him.
I liked how the author gave unusual perspectives on the war. For instance, Henry is captured at one point and spends the remainder of the war in a camp for prisoners. This is a portion of the Civil War experience that is not as often explored. Mr. King seems to have done extensive research to make his story realistic and true to the times. He also makes an effort to explain military strategy and the importance of different battles. Additionally, the characters are well developed with adequate back story to connect with the reader.
There were some negatives to this book. First of all, it does not seem to have been professionally edited. I found over ten errors in the first half of the book mostly dealing with spacing, comma usage, and capitalization. Also, I questioned the author’s use of cursing. I’m sure that soldiers back then had colorful language, but the way he used it seemed too modern. Another issue I had was in Henry’s letters home. He tells his wife about his experiences, but the letters are repetitive of what just happened in the book. This made the pace lag. Perhaps excerpts about his feelings would have served better.
Overall, the author did a good job of making his point that despite advancements in medicine and technology, the Civil War cost the nation greatly. He encourages people to continue to seek racial equality and not forget the past. I recommend this book to historical fiction readers and anyone wanting to contemplate the realities of war. Readers who are sensitive to graphic violence will want to pass this one over. Due to the editing and a few small issues, I rate this novel as 3 out of 4 stars.
Journey Through Hell Almost to Heaven
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