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Shaara, Jeff

SHAARA, Jeff

Nationality: American. Born: New Brunswick, New Jersey (son of well-known author Michael Shaara), 1952. Education: Florida State University, degree in criminology, 1974. Family: Wife's name is Lynne. Career: Founder of rare coin business at age sixteen, eventually incorporated as Florida Coin Exchange, a retail business, sold company in 1988; became full-time writer. Divides his time between Florida and New York.

Publications

Novels

Gods and Generals. New York, Ballantine Books, 1996.

The Last Full Measure. New York, Ballantine Books, 1998.

Gone for Soldiers. New York, Ballantine Books, 2000.

* * *

Although he never intended to be a writer, after only four years of writing Jeff Shaara has proven to be one of the most popular and prolific American novelists at the turn of the twenty-first century. He is the son of Michael Shaara, winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for his American Civil War novel, The Killer Angels, on which the film Gettysburg was based. During the filming of this movie in 1993, Shaara was approached about continuing his now-deceased father's legacy. His first book, Gods and Generals, was a prequel to his father's novel, and his second, The Last Full Measure, a sequel. Together, they form a trilogy with Shaara's father's novel at the center. While some critics perceive this framing of his father's writing as a form of tampering or exploitation, others align themselves with Shaara himself, who believes that he is continuing his father's legacy by telling the stories Michael Shaara was unable to tell before his death. Shaara's third novel, Gone for Soldiers, while not explicitly inter-textual with The Killer Angels, nevertheless returns to many of the same characters, examining their earlier participation in the Mexican-American War.

Shaara is reluctant to locate himself within a literary tradition, or cite any contemporary literary influences other than his father. Nevertheless, he is clearly a writer of historical fiction, as supported by his claim that his greatest influences are the writings of those historical figures with whom his books are concerned. His documentary style is complemented by his meticulous attention to the factual details of each historical event or period he chronicles. Simultaneously, his writing does not lack imagination, as he sifts through the history to retrieve the people who inhabited it, and bring them to life in a way traditional history making or telling does not. Shaara is aware that his writing must stand the test of the innumerable Civil War scholars and aficionados who read it, and is careful not to violate the accountability to the historical record he feels a writer imagining this period assumes. Shaara is also frank, however, about the profound emotional ties he feels to his characters and the very different kind of responsibility this almost spiritual connection entails for him as an author. Still, the inevitable comparison to Michael Shaara's work suggests that the son is more concerned with vividly and accurately documenting historical events, while the father was more deeply riveted by psychological themes, including the ability of the individual to grow and adapt when confronted with previously unimaginable tensions and conflicts, like the Civil War itself.

Gods and Generals, Shaara's first novel, was published to mixed reviews and tremendous commercial success, spending fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The novel documents the first three years of the American Civil War as Shaara slowly threads together the lives of Generals Joshua Chamberlain, Stonewall Jackson, Winfield Scott Hancock, and Robert E. Lee. Quite believably, Shaara explores the ambivalence, ethics, loyalties, and disillusionment of each man, leading up to the Battle of Gettysburgwhere Michael Shaara's novel takes over. Shaara's second novel, The Last Full Measure also a commercial successpicks up after The Killer Angels, with Lee's retreat from Pennsylvania, and follows through to his surrender at Appomattox. With the introduction of Ulysses S. Grant, Shaara focuses his narrator's powers of omniscience on Lee and Grant as compelling examples of the North and South. His latest novel, Gone for Soldiers, also takes Lee as its subject, as it traces his evolution as a commander through the Mexican-American War.

Shaara is remarkable not just for achieving such tremendous success in such a short time, despite lacking previous writing experience, but also because he has been so remarkably successful in bringing his work to the public in a variety of forms. Each of his novels is being transformed into a cinematic version, with Shaara himself partner in a production company formed for that express purpose. He has also succeeded in bringing another of Michael Shaara's novels, For Love of the Game, to the screen in a movie of the same name. He is currently at work on a series on the American Revolutionary War and the American "Founding Fathers."

Jennifer Harris

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