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"Beauty was Alex's first, best memory of her childhood: the beauty
of the sun-struck harbor, the white sails of ships bound for exotic
ports...She loved the sight of men casting shrimp nets from sturdy
piraguas or spearing flatfish by lantern light. She loved the
mockingbirds perched on the pittosporum, guarding their nests and
trilling their song; the great blue herons standing still as
statuary...the steamy shade of summer; the rattle of rain on
palmetto fronds."

Charleston, South Carolina is one of the quintessential southern
cities that has formed our picturesque image of a bygone era. It's
home to 300-year-old plantations, a bustling harbor, historic Fort
Sumter, and The Citadel. It's the romantic ideal of southern belles
and horse-drawn carriages, magnolia blossoms, and mint juleps on
the verandah. Yet beneath this charming visualization lie the ugly
scars of a beleaguered history --- a century of social and
political strife that not only shaped the city of Charleston but
much of our country as well. John Jakes revisits the decades of the
American Revolution and the Civil War to tell the story of a city
and it's people caught in a vise between profitable English
alliances and the emerging moral issue of slavery.

The Bell family of Charleston had humble beginnings but rose to
become influential in social and political circles. Thomas Bell, a
successful businessman and plantation owner, sympathizes with the
patriot cause, an unhealthy position to take in such turbulent
times. His son, Edward, influenced by both his father and his
future wife, Joanna, takes an active part in the Revolutionary War
as well, eventually joining forces with the infamous "Swamp Fox,"
Francis Marion. Like many families, the emotional and financial
issues created as a consequence of war with England drive a wedge
between brothers, and Adrian Bell declares his loyalty for the
English forces that are laying siege to Charleston. And along with
the brewing storm of patriot versus partisan, the jealous
malevolence of Adrian's wife Lydia spawns a deep-seated hatred that
will impact future generations with tragic consequences.

Although CHARLESTON revolves primarily around the generations of
Bells, there are other families whose progeny are pivotal in the
dramatic developments. Daniel Poorly, a lifelong slave, is granted
emancipation for his wife and son by his heroic actions in the
Revolutionary War --- years later his grandson, Henry, will face
serious consequences from a forbidden love. The offspring of a
scoundrel, Ladimer Lark, are proof that the acorn falls close to
the tree as they perpetuate a family tradition of thievery and
murder. Slave and owner, martyr and assassin, unionist and
separatist --- lives intersect on this historic stage, their
destinies molded and shaped by rising tensions between North and
South that will culminate in a prolonged civil war.

The aftermath of a century of bitter bloodletting is to bring lofty
idealism to it's knees and destruction to the beautiful city of
Alexandra Bell's childhood. What parades as a moral victory leaves
behind a devastated citizenry festering with a rage that will take
another century to heal. John Jakes's magnificent dramatization of
the people of Charleston and the times in which they lived marks
another milestone in the prolific career of this remarkable
storyteller who has been justly christened "the godfather of
historical novelists." CHARLESTON is equal shares of innocence and
intrigue, love and scorn, enlightening detail and abundant
imagination. What more could you possibly want?

Reviewed by Ann Bruns ( on January 21, 2011

by John Jakes

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 532 pages
  • Publisher: Signet
  • ISBN-10: 0451207335
  • ISBN-13: 9780451207333