Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles


Few books I read are what I think of as “historical novels,” that is, novels whose placement in the past is a key element of the work. The books I’ve read by Paulette Jiles do fall into that category; the three I’ve read do not let you forget they are set in Texas in the period shortly after the Civil War.  I have admired and enjoyed the three, including this one. The main figure in News of the World, Captain Thomas Jefferson Kidd, makes a cameo appearance in this one.

Simon has many adventures, beginning with the end of the war. Months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox, they were still fighting in Texas. Simon was conscripted into the Confederate Army and was at that last battle in Palmito Ranch. The author reminds us of the role of Texas in the end of the war and this fits with what we have become more aware of with the new national Juneteenth commemoration of the end of slavery.

Simon teamed up with other musicians to play for the officers of both armies after hostilities ended. There he had his first sight of his beloved, a young woman from Ireland who was governess for a Union officer whose evil nature was apparent to everyone. The musicians made their way to Galveston and began to work their way out of the terrible privations of the war. The yellow fever death of the youngest musician in their group was described in distressing detail. Through their many struggles and travels, Simon remains focused on his connection to the Doris, the Irish woman, and his determination to save money to buy land for their future in Texas.

The author writes eloquently of the beauty of music and the landscape of East Texas.

The outcome won’t surprise you, though the ultimate fight was left me wondering momentarily whether the author might, in the interest of historical reality, let her main character hang.

Paulette Jiles, Simon the Fiddler, William Morrow, 2020, 352 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available in the public library.

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