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Discover Mid-America — February 2004

Past Life Memories as a Confederate Soldier, by James H. Kent, forward by Prof. Hans Holzer; Ozark Mountain Press, 2003, 192 pages, photos, illustrations, and maps, paperback, $13.50, 1886940843

A regular guy in this life and one previous

At the little parochial school I attended as a kid, we learned that slavery was bad. The Union was the good guys, the South the bad guys. That was about it.

But, thank goodness a whole genre of Civil War scholarship and literature has since emerged that has depicted the sectional struggle less in terms of black and white and more in shades of gray. Some of it’s been quite good. Much of it’s been bad—poorly written, badly researched, agenda-driven polemics that wind up thrown against the wall in disgust.

So, when Past Life Memories As a Confederate Soldier by James H. Kent came across the desk, it almost found its way to the shelf for storage. But after a few pages, it was obvious there was something happening here, past lives or no—and it was interesting.

First, Kent has a story that is less about history and science than about being confronted with an intermittent series of dreams from 1978 to the present that seem very real to him. Second, he has a storytelling and writing style that is…well, wholesome. It’s hard not to like James Kent. It’s even harder not to trust that this man really believes he was a tall, lanky Confederate soldier stationed somewhere in eastern Kentucky, perhaps under the command of Gen. Samuel McGowan.

The dreams Kent begins to have in the late-1970s are so real to him that he has to look deeply into his own past to find similar occurrences. In 1960, he had understood (for lack of a better term) the death of Clark Gable before he heard the actor had died. Then, on Nov. 21, 1963, he remembered feeling gloomy and depressed. He writes, “I just knew for certain that something catastrophic was going to happen with worldwide consequences, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it would be.”

Now, this is pretty monumental stuff. Anyone could look back, remember favorably, and say, “Gee, I just knew…” And perhaps, in Kent’s case, this lead-in to the Civil War dreams would be better left out of the book because of this. But read in the spirit that he offers it, to build credibility for his following experiences, it only increases what one might call the “endearment factor” that makes this book and its author so intriguing.

Kent’s dreams read like short stories. First, they begin simply enough, such as this one from the chapter, “The Carnage”: “My dream began. I was laying on field looking up at the clear blue sky.” Second, they have compelling hooks: “Apparently this must have been the aftermath of a violent battle, as I immediately became aware of lying in a tangled mass of dead soldiers.” They all have decent narrative arcs, and they all conclude with a contrite Kent wringing emotion from the reader.

Not all are violent battle scenes, either. Some are touched with gentle moments, breathtaking scenery, and visions of tired and hungry men.

The lengths to which Kent pursues the exploration of his dreams is amazing: hypnosis, correspondence with a psychic, visits to the National Archives and the Library of Congress, and a visit to a very interesting professor of parapsychology, Hans Holzer.

Holzer wrote the introduction for the book and encouraged and helped Kent along with his research to establish the validity of his dreams. He has written 119 books on the “unknown” and is pursued by psychics and ghost chasers the world over for his imprimatur on their work. He was also the producer and first on-screen personality for the popular 1970s series, “In Search Of…”

Still, Holzer is sincere, and always has been. So is Kent, and the writing reflects not only this earnestness but an ability to weave a story that is part travel narrative, part inner exploration, and part seemingly authentic, if very personal, Civil War history.

Kent’s writing needs pruning but isn’t difficult. He is, after all, an amateur—writer, psychic, and historian. There is a freshness and innocence to his work that makes it, taken with proper grains of salt, good storytelling. The absolute best part of Past Life Memories is that Kent is one of us: a regular guy, with a good heart, a sound mind, and a great story.

Patrick Dobson is a journalist, poet, and freelance writer and editor based in Kansas City, MO. He publishes and edits the online literary magazine, the poetrysheet. His award-winning columns, editorials, and articles have appeared in PitchWeekly, eKC, and Discover Mid-America. His poetry and short stories have been published in the pages of The Kansas City Star, Review, Friction Magazine, Mid-America Poetry Review, The Same, and Thorny Locust. He is now pursuing a doctorate in history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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