Slave catchers, medicine showmen, and the Battle of Gettysburg…They’re all part of The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, this month’s read for the Reading into History family book club. Readers are invited to the Museum to discuss the book and Skype with acclaimed, multi-award-winning author Rodman Philbrick on Sunday, April 10 from 2 – 4 pm. In this work of historical fiction, the protagonist, Homer goes on a wild adventure to find his older brother Harold, meeting fascinating, dangerous, and sometimes humorous characters along the way. The novel gives readers a portrait of the Civil War from home front to battlefield. In addition to meeting the author, readers on Sunday will have the opportunity to view original artifacts dating from the Civil War. So come join us! As always, the Book Club is free with Museum admission and requires no RSVP. We recently sat down with the book’s author and asked him a few questions in anticipation of his visit.
In your novel, Homer’s adventure begins when his uncle illegally sells his older brother into the Union Army. Were men actually sold into the military during the Civil War?
The Civil War draft laws allowed a draftee to pay a substitute to take his place. Therein lay the corruption, which took many forms. Some men took the substitution money, deserted, and then substituted again and again. Others were fooled or tricked into becoming substitutes and still more pocketed the money.
What inspired you to write a book about the Civil War from a civilian’s perspective?
My notion was that I could tell an interesting story from a military outsider’s point of view. A boy with nothing to lose but his only familial connection: his big brother. In some ways, the Civil War was a conflict within the American family, as a whole.
Homer meets so many interesting people on his journey. Which characters were the most fun to write?
I got a real kick out of the characters associated with the medicine show.
When families come discuss your book here at the Museum on April 10, they will view real Civil War artifacts in our Library. What primary sources influenced this novel the most? Did you examine any original Civil War objects while writing your novel?
Primary sources included the letters selected for the Ken Burns documentary, contemporary newspaper accounts about the war, as well as the writings of Joshua Chamberlain. On the subject of the events at Gettysburg, Michael Shaara’s powerful novel The Killer Angels was in effect a primary source. Locally, the Portsmouth Athenaeum has original documents, contemporary books and letters, and an interesting collection of Civil War artifacts. It all helped.
Were there any fascinating anecdotes of Civil War life that you learned about during your research that didn’t make it into the novel?
Nope, I included everything.
What three words best describe The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg?
Exciting, and mostly true. Does “and” count? Too bad!
This program is supported by
Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.