“Simon the Fiddler” is a corny love story–boy meets girl, boy pines over girl and against all odds, boy gets girl. And yet, there is something visceral and enjoyable about the story and the way it is unfolds. The story itself describes characters who grow, love and find meaning in the midst of difficult conditions, and is written in a smooth straight forward style that is just right for this peculiar time in history.
Simon Boudlin is a fiddler, who, in October of 1864, is desperately trying to avoid being conscripted into the Confederate army. He travels from place to place playing his fiddle and escaping the conscription men. “But they finally got him in March of 1865.” He ends up in Giddings regiment in a regimental band.
Simon is assigned to a shelter that includes Damon, a dark spirited flautist. The war is coming to an end, so other than having very little to eat and a lack of clean clothes, there is little war to see.Simon has a very valuable fiddle that he takes great care to protect.
“On the morning of May 12, 1865, when a storm arrived in banks of hard blue clouds, Federal troops decided to row across from Brazil’s Island and attack them. Nobody knew why. It didn’t matter why.” This attack changes Simon’s life.
Simon and Damon survive, the regimen surrenders and Simon’s fiddle has been stolen. They march to the Union army’s fort and Simon sees a soldier with his fiddle. He screams at him and hits him in the head with a rock, recovering his fiddle. Simon has a temper. After a short stay in a punishment cell, he is escorted to a room where there is a group of former soldiers who have been told to become an orchestra to play for the officers and their wives. “The musicians were both Yankee and Confederate. They were all filthy, they had recently been trying to kill one another.” The group includes Damon, Simon, Patrick (Yankee drummer boy), Doroteo (guitarist) and others.
As soon as he walks into the event, Simon sees Doris Dillon, an 18 year old from Ireland who is working as a governess for a Union officer. Simon is immediately smitten. He learns that Doris works for Colonel Webb, a cruel, hard drinking Union leader, and that Doris is signed to a three year commitment of service to the Webb family. Simon contrives to introduce himself and needless to say, Colonel Webb, who apparently has less than honorable intentions toward his employee, is less than pleased. The band performs and then everyone goes their own way. Simon, Patrick, Damon, and Doroteo come together and travel to Galveston. Doris and the Webbs travel to the Webb home in San Antonio.
The four men play at various bars and parties and accumulate some money, but Galveston is struck with yellow fever and they decide to leave and head toward Houston. “They were all too young to die and always would be.” Simon is thinking about nothing other than buying some land, finding his way to San Antonio and getting his girl.
Doris and Simon strike up written correspondence, but they have to be very careful because Colonel Webb does not allow her to have a relationship and reads all of her correspondence. Initially, the letters come from Patrick, who is of Irish descent, and the letters include various missives about things happening in the old country. Soon the relationship deepens.
Finally, Simon purchases property and then finds his way to San Antonio where he ultimately liberates Doris. As you can imagine, a lot happens in between. The men have lots of adventures in their travels and a whole host of characters enter and exit their lives. The lives and backgrounds of the main characters are disclosed throughout the novel. And of course, we learn a lot about Doris, who is a happy curious person but finds herself in a precarious situation with the Webbs.
In some ways, the story is just like any other love story. But the writing is superb and the story telling paints vivid pictures of the characters, the times and the various places where the story takes place. If you are looking for a light read that won’t make you feel as though you are wasting your time, you might want to try “Simon the Fiddler.” You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.