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Minds In


Tandem


David Sanger, author of All Their Minds In Tandem, a new novel set in post-American Civil War psychological turbulence, explains why a Brit was captivated by that peculiarly American period


M


y first real encounter with the American Civil War was


through Ken Burns’ celebrated PBS documentary. The programme’s skill at blending moving narratives with a detailed account of the war kept me hooked. My mistake though was suspecting the stories, especially the personal ones, were a device of the documentary’s - perhaps to rope the viewer in with sentimentalised drama, more than accurate fact. Then I started to research the war for a book I was writing and found the pages of detail were never with- out the stories. I began to under- stand that they are a part of the war. This did not detract from the horrors of the conflict - the deaths of 7,000 men in 20 minutes at Cold Harbor show the blunt brutality of the fight- ing. But the reason I found myself, as an Englishman, drawn into this very American war was its stories. Less than a ten-minute walk from


my parent’s home in Kent is a bat- tleground of the English Civil War. Recently, I found myself wondering


40 The American


why I hadn’t written about that war instead. It seemed more apt, less of a trespass even, to write of English history. Yet the decision to concen- trate on America didn’t come from a preference for the country or a snub of my own. Instead, the American Civil War offered me a landscape where stories took to the soil. The book I was trying to write felt plau- sible when set there. The two lead characters in my


novel are a mysterious man by the name of Emerson, who fought in the war as a boy, and a fearless sev- enteen year-old orphan named Kit- tie. Both might seem like accumu- lations of the rich histories of real people yet when you line them up against those who really witnessed the war, you realise the fiction pales in comparison to the fact. I was always obsessed with


tales of Arthurian knights when I was younger. The storybooks and toy swords eventually disap- peared as I grew up. Yet this love of lives knitted together by poetic


expression and rich experience was rekindled with the Civil War. From soldiers’ confrontations of their own honour and fear, to the women who dressed as men to fight, the war is filled with extraordinarily bold truths. There is, of course, a harsh reality to each one. There is slow death and deep sorrow and an overwhelming sense that this was a war many considered futile. Perhaps the one prevailing story is that over 600,000 people lost their lives in the fighting. Yet beneath this tragic surface is a foundation of hope. To read of a terrifying battle on one page only to be moved by humour and spirit on the next - that is to read of the Civil War. Research turned to interest


long ago, meaning that whilst the writing is done, I am still dedicating my time to reading about it. This is because, whilst it is a very American war, its appeal is in its hope and humanity; something we all of us, regardless of our nationalities, can relate to.


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