In Andersonville depressing facts become depressing fiction

MacKinlay Kantor’s story of  the Confederacy’s infamous prisoner of war camp  opens the day Ira Chaffey learns of plans for a POW camp on land adjoining his.

In the tent city that was Andersonville Prison Camp, captured Union soldiers wait out the war
Historic photographs shows life in the Andersonville prison camp

It ends with Ira walking through the empty Andersonville camp site after the Confederacy’s defeat.

Between the two events, Ira and his daughter Lucy are forced to helplessly endure the stench of the camp.


 Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

T.Y. Crowell, 1955. 767 pages. 1955 bestseller #3. My grade: B+.


Most of book is biographical sketches about individual soldiers, some real, some fictional.

Some were decent people before the war, others were villains.

In Andersonville, each is placed in conditions that bring out the worst in everyone.

Prisoners didn’t even have shelter from the elements, let alone adequate food, water, clothing, medical care.

Kantor’s work is well-researched, but not academic. Some of the individual vignettes are superb.

As a novel, however, the work is a failure.

For one thing, there are simply too many characters to keep track of.

And Kantor doesn’t use quotation marks, so it’s hard to keep track of who is speaking in a given scene even if you recognize the character.

Worst of all, Kantor’s graphic depiction of the extent of human depravity is overwhelming.

While novels don’t require happy endings, they should leave open the possibility that different choices would have lead to different outcomes.

Andersonville doesn’t do that.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I'm passionate about helping people learn through the medium of nonfiction writing. Although I occasionally have an idea of my own, I mostly build education tools by recycling and repurposing other folks' ideas.

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