Iron Branch is my historical novel that explores cultural conflicts of the American Civil War era as experienced by those not often elevated to lead roles. Abita Carter, a half-Choctaw woman who describes herself as always “in-between,” tells the story of her life and that of the young lawyer/soldier, Minor Barrett, in north Louisiana during the Civil War. The core of the tale involves Abita’s journey to find Minor, who is reported to have been wounded during the siege of Vicksburg. Along the way she faces a cast of characters with varying intentions. General Grant’s wife, a family of slaves with compassion beyond reason, and a small blind mule are among those encountered in the rich, Deep South setting. None, though, is more distracting than Minor’s blue-blooded wife, who seeks her husband for a different purpose. Abita’s state of “in-between” takes on new meanings as she is drawn ever deeper into the turmoil of the times. Passion, self-doubt, and malice finally threaten her existence in any condition.
Review from the Baton Rouge Advocate: “A naturalist who has worked as a biologist and manager of National Wildlife Refuges for 30 years, mostly in Louisiana, Kelby Ouchley lives and writes on the edge of the D’Arbonne Swamp in a cypress house surrounded by white oaks and black hickories. It is as though his first novel, Iron Branch: A Civil War Tale of a Woman In-Between, were written out of an immersion in the world of his first nonfiction book Flora And Fauna Of The Civil War (2011) and his second Bayou Diversity: Nature And Diversity In The Louisiana Bayou Country (2011). With a global perspective, all three books demonstrate ‘the connectivity of all living things everywhere,’ so that his novel’s natural and historical settings and the human relationships, universal with unique variations, the reader may imagine as happening anywhere around the globe. From start to finish, the reader shares, in fact and feeling, Abita Carter’s awareness of being a woman between. Half-Choctaw, she lives with a white family in Union Parish, northern Louisiana. Like Evangeline, she journeys in search of her lover, Minor Barrett, reported wounded during the siege of Vicksburg. Enduring conflicts with many different kinds of people on various cultural levels, she struggles between Minor and his blue-blooded wife. Readers may see this tale as reversing the narrative of Cold Mountain, but this is one of the most unusual tales in Civil War fiction, and Abita’s style as narrator is distinctively authentic. ‘I fell then, sudden and hard, like a steer struck properly with the back of single-bit ax at slaughter time.’ The novel’s charged image, the most powerful, dominant image, like the most dominant component of an ecosystem, the image that readers will remember long after they have put the novel aside comes at the climax…”
Paperback copies of the book can be bought at Amazon and other online book sellers. The e-book version is carried by Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Branch-Civil-In-Between-ebook/dp/B0056PFS9M/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1357766121&sr=1-3. More than 23,700 copies were downloaded in 2012. Signed copies are available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iron Branch Book Club Discussion Questions
1. A state of being “in-between” is a predominant theme of Iron Branch. How is this theme developed throughout the novel?
2. Abita has an affinity for nature. In what ways does her mother’s culture influence this closeness?
3. One of Abita’s talents is recognizing the “essence” of a person’s personality. Discuss some examples of this talent and how it influenced her quest.
4. Chula, the blind mule, serves as an example of determination and loyalty in Iron Branch. How does Abita see him as a reflection of herself and why does she choose him as a traveling companion?
5. How does Iron Branch contrast personalities, cultures, and mores?
6. Who is the most influential antagonist in this story? Why?
7. Natural history permeates Iron Branch. Does this enhance or detract from the story? Give an example.
8. Discuss how four characters in this book considered matters of love, emotional and/or physical.
9. Atlas is a fascinating character. Why does Atlas capture the attention and imagination?
10. How does the discrimination experienced by Abita differ from that of Sudie? Of Mink? How is it similar?
11. How does Minor’s attitude about fighting in the war change?
12. Sudie’s view after the encounter with the wandering slaves was, “People don’t know
better ain’t gonna do better.” In what ways can this insight be applied to humans in the 21st century?
13. How would this story have played out for Abita and Minor if the Civil War had not
14. Abita speaks about the “gloom” of the days after the war. What were some of the problems in the South after the war?