A Shout in the Ruins is Kevin Powers's follow-up to his acclaimed debut, The Yellow Birds. It's an ambitious sophomore effort that draws from more than a century of U.S. history, centering on the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. Beginning in the antebellum South, Powers introduces us to the Reid family: Emily and her father, Bob; and their slaves, Aurelia and her son Rawls. Emily and Rawls grow up in close proximity but separated by a wide gulf. Even as a young boy, Rawls notes that Emily's pain differs from his "in source and scope. While hers came from a rare remonstration by her father, his was inscrutable and vast." As they grow older, they grow farther apart, before being reunited by the cruel plantation owner Levallois and the changes brought on by the Civil War.
The narrative also adopts the point of view of George Seldom, who, as a very old man in 1956 North Carolina, searches for evidence of his childhood. Seldom's parentage and true age are a mystery to him as an orphan coming out of the chaos from the Civil War, and he frequently ventures into the past through recollections of a hard life now approaching its end.
Powers's cast of characters is large for a relatively short book, and one of the pleasures of A Shout in the Ruins is the way it serves as a jumping-off point for a dozen or more separate but interwoven stories from a variety of perspectives. It brushes aside myth and romanticism for a clear-eyed look at American heritage. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.