A Different Sin - Rochelle H Schwab
There are three very strong threads in this story: slavery; the American Civil War and the love between David and Zach. Itís a pretty tall order to try and write a polemic on the evils of slavery, the history of the war between the States and a romance which charts the difficulties for gay men in the nineteenth century. To give the author her due, sheís done a pretty good job of pulling this off. She makes the very telling point that despite the evil and sinning around them (slavery and the war) what David and Zach do in loving each other would be seen as worse by their societyómutilating or enslaving men is better than loving them, apparently.
Given that, I didnít find the novel captured my heart. It engaged my intellect and roused my ire about the wickedness of man, but the love story wasnít strong enough to compete with these other conflicting storylines. I did eventually warm to David and Zach and there are a few moments of genuine spine tingling romance, but these are mostly told in the form of wishful longing when they are separated.
David is an artist who meets Zack, a journalist, and takes a job on a newspaper as an illustrator. Heís drawn to Zack, but itís many years before he realises what his feelings are, and when he does realise (after a night of unexpected pleasure), heís revolted by what heís done and what that means he is. Running away from the fear of being a pervert and a ďnancyĒ, David goes to cover the war.
What he sees in this terrible conflict makes him realise that there is a worse sin than being in love with another man.
The scenes of war are very powerfully written; you can almost smell the blood and the fear. The theme of slavery is poignantly told. The romance? It was sweet, but Iím not living David and Zack in my head. This may be because just as you start to get some resolution, the author ends the book. It left me frustrated. I hope sheís going to write a sequel.
Good read if youíre into historical fiction with an intriguing gay twist.
This is a coming out story with a twist, historical romance covering a period of 10 years, set mainly in Virginia and New York.† Itís full of period detail, informative and well researched background material on the abolitionist movement, the American Civil War and the newspaper business.† But its heart is a passionate romance between two men.
The bookís strength is to show homosexuality as a normal part of historical life and not a notion invented in the 20th C. as some would have us believe.† Just because there was no word for men loving men certainly doesnít mean it didnít exist.† Walt Whitmanís Leaves of Grass is quoted as proof by one gay character.† As weíve seen in the Dakota Taylor books, same-sex love was common in frontier times where there were few women around.† Back east it was different.† Gay men were alone and fearful, struggling with what was held to be unnatural desire, an abomination.† Schwab has crafted a story to highlight difficulties facing any man stirred by sexual feelings for another man.† Her characters are flesh & blood people with real emotions and human frailties.
David Carter is the son of a Virginia slave owner who goes to New York City to follow a second career as an artist working for an illustrated newspaper, when sympathy for the abolitionist cause scuppers the law practice he was never happy with anyway.† Davidís father had a relationship with a female slave that produced a son, Michael.† For many years the boy was unacknowledged.† His experiences dramatise all that was morally reprehensible about slavery.† Yet he and his father were reconciled when Michael escaped to the North to become a doctor with a family.†
David feels inadequate by comparison to Michael who overcame such hardship.† He refuses marriage so New York is an escape, not as dramatic as fleeing slavery but a form of emancipation because he meets and falls in love with Zachary, a fellow newsman.†† David had no idea there could be such a thing between men. Whereas David is tormented by guilt for the sin, as he sees it, of their relationship, Zach accepts what they are, for how can there be any sin in loving?
David and Zachary arenít young men.† David is around 40 when they meet and Zach some 5 years older.† Theyíre of their times, with whiskers and beards.† Though they do visit the gym to tone their muscled physiques, and both are handsome. After a lifetime of unsatisfactory sex David finds what he needs.† Except he canít accept what they do isnít wrong, and runs away to be a war illustrator, to escape temptation of the flesh; but all the time David is away he never stops wanting his loverís touch.†
A divided country is mirrored by the battle within David between the man who loves Zach and the guilt ridden sinner.† Davidís fear is that loving Zach makes him less of a man, a nancy boy like Zachís flamboyant friend Byron.† Selfishly, heís more concerned with other peopleís attitudes to Ďsodomitesí than Zachís happiness. The book develops themes of social justice: the effects of ignorance & fear, hate & prejudice, and the determination of former slaves to fight to live as and where they choose, resonate in the continuing struggle for gay equality and acceptance.† It touches also on the restricted role of women in traditional, patriarchal society.
Schwab is a good writer.† I read quickly because I needed to know how the story ended.† Maybe thatís why sometimes I felt there was a bit too much history, particularly in the lengthy section covering Grantís Wilderness Campaign of1864 that takes up almost half the book, and got in the way of the love story.† Though I admit military history bores me, and conflict is necessary for drama.† David is tormented by his desire so running away makes sense and is in character.† Still it felt unbalanced.† I wanted more detail of their time together in New York.† The story ends at the point I most desperately wanted to go on, and didnít seem complete.† Perhaps Schwab intends a sequel, for this book revisits characters introduced in earlier novel As Far As Blood Goes.† This is a compliment, to have so much invested in characters you want together.† Iíd particularly like to have Zachís story expanded upon, to read about his experience as a gay man since he was thrown out by his father, age 15, as we donít meet him until 30 years later.†
The lengthy and unflinching depiction of the horrors of war does drive the point there are far worse sins than male love, as David witnesses the worst that men do to each other.† A final act of courage proves his journey worthwhile, finally free to love as he wants.† But is it too late?† You must read the book to find out.† The North won and the slaves were freed.† It took a lot longer for gay people to win the right to live & love openly.† The struggle isnít yet over.† Books like this help open minds and hearts.† Highly recommended.