Devil's Dream: A Novel About Nathan Bedford Forrest (Hardcover)

A Novel About Nathan Bedford Forrest

By Madison Smartt Bell

Pantheon, 9780375424885, 352pp.

Publication Date: November 3, 2009



From the author of All Souls’ Rising which The Washington Post called “A serious historical novel that reads like a dream,” comes a powerful new novel about Nathan Bedford Forrest, the most reviled, celebrated, and legendary, of Civil War generals.

With the same eloquence, dramatic energy, and grasp of history that marked his previous works, Madison Smartt Bell gives us a wholly new vantage point from which to view this complicated American figure. Considered a rogue by the upper ranks of the Confederate Army, who did not properly use his talents, Forrest was often relegated to small-scale operations.

In Devil's Dream, Bell brings to life an energetic, plainspoken man who does not tolerate weakness in himself or in those around him. We see Forrest on and off the battlefield, in less familiar but no less revealing moments of his life: courting the woman who would become his wife; battling a compulsion to gamble; overcoming his abhorrence of the army bureaucracy to rise to its highest ranks. We see him treating his slaves humanely even as he fights to ensure their continued enslavement, and in battle we see his knack for keeping his enemy unsettled, his instinct for the unexpected, and his relentless stamina.

As Devil's Dream moves back and forth in time, providing prismatic glimpses of Forrest, a vivid portrait comes into focus: a rough, fierce man with a life fill of contradictions.

About the Author

MADISON SMARTT BELL is the author of fourteen previous works of fiction, including "Soldier's Joy "and "Anything Goes." He was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and grew up collection bullets on the same fields where many of Forrest's battles were fought. He now lives in Baltimore.

Praise For Devil's Dream: A Novel About Nathan Bedford Forrest

Praise for Madison Smartt Bell

Devil's Dream

"Brave, accomplished and utterly compelling, seamed with passages of haunting, lyrical beauty." –Kirkus

“From this retrospective view, hardscrabble Forrest emerges as a cog in a larger machine, a creature of a world he didn’t make, though complicit, to be sure, in its moral failures. North and South, ‘they’re in it right up to the neck with the rest of us,’ Forrest insists, speaking of slavery. ‘Make yore own self free,’ he tells his black son. But Madison Smartt Bell knows that such advice makes little sense to anyone wearing leg irons, that slavery didn’t end without unthinkable violence. And so, unlike Forrest, he whistles his devil’s dream to a different, more gripping, far more human tune.” –New York Times Book Review
“The "stuff" of which historical fiction is made, Forrest has found his novelist in Madison Smartt Bell. Born and raised in Nashville, Bell knows the sights, smells, sins and syntax of the Civil War South. His narrative, moving on and then off the battlefield, back and forth in time, is lush and lively, taut and tense.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Sparkling with jeweled descriptive moments, this volume absorbs Forrest and those around him into the crossroads of a violent, dangerous moment where history seems to compress, the dead awaken, and conflicts slip into a time zone that defies chronology.” –Baltimore City Paper

"Exciting and authentic, Bell’s novel of a world in violent transition is flush with action and ravishing evocations of forests and fields, heat and rain, the muddy churn of hungry troops, and fleeting moments of respite as tragedy is leavened with sensuality and mystery. Will Bell’s Bedford, who so perfectly embodies the cruel paradoxes of race and war, ride again?" –Booklist, starred review

“Sparkling with jeweled descriptive moments, this volume absorbs Forrest and those around him into the crossroads of a violent, dangerous moment where history seems to compress, the dead awaken, and conflicts slip into a time zone that defies chronology.” –Baltimore City Paper

"The unconventional structure and supernatural twist expand the narrative into an engaging examination of what it means to be free, a question that haunts Forrest through his life." –Publishers Weekly

 "Many of Bell's dreamlike images have the effect of ripples across water from a skipped stone—quick and close in the beginning, they slow, then disappear back into the smooth-as-glass water." –Nashville Scene

"Rich descriptions of battles, accounts of the lives of the men who fought alongside Forrest, and the pure force of Forrest's personality make this an engrossing read." –Library Journal

“One of the most compelling figures of American military history and a damn colorful creation to boot.” –Miami Sun Post
“Anyone interested in looking at human inter-dependencies and disparities of the times should read the somber but telling pages of ‘Devil's Dream.’” –Jackson Free Press

All Souls' Rising
"As powerful as a hurricane . . . All Souls' Rising is really about us, our times, our prejudices, our race wars."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Rich and ambitious . . . One of the most sophisticated fictional treatments of the enduring themes of class, color, and freedom."
San Francisco Chronicle

Master of the Crossroads
"Fiction in the grandest, most ambitious form . . . Often the prose swaggers muscularly, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy in The Border Trilogy; at other times it grows florid and surreal, in the vein of Gabriel García Marquez."
The Boston Globe

"A brilliant performance, the work of an accomplished novelist of peculiar energy and courage . . . One puts down Master of the Crossroads with a visceral knowledge of what it felt like to wage war in Haiti at the turn of the nineteenth century."
The New York Times Book Review

The Stone That the Builder Refused
"A towering work . . . Bell has emerged as one of the most brilliant, artistic, and daring historical novelists of our time . . . He has created that rarest of works, a masterpiece.:
The Washington Post Book World

"Must be considered among the most important accomplishments of our century. Could easily cement Bell's reputation as one of his generation's greatest authors."
Harold Bloom