Wearing its liberal heart on its sleeve, the 13th novel by National Book Award-winner Settle has the same historic sweep and personalized politics as her acclaimed Beulah Quintet (Charley Bland, 1989, etc.). Settle's protagonist is a woman of the century, a tough lady who, confronted by the major events of her time, feels the need to stand up and be counted. Her story begins in Richmond, Virginia, where Melinda Kregg slowly realizes there's more to life than debutante balls. After her father's death, Melinda devotes her exemplary life to assuaging her guilt over inheriting his ""blood money,"" made from investments in coal mines. As a Red Cross volunteer, she ventures to Kentucky, where she rebels against bureaucratic neutrality during a strike because it punishes innocent children. With no illusions about manipulative communists and fellow travelers -- especially the lecherous Theodore Dreiser, who makes a cameo here -- Melinda is changed by the murder of her party member lover. Run out of town, she eventually lands in Manhattan, where she adds auto mechanics to her diverse skills -- all of which come in handy when she sets off for the Spanish Civil War. Amid a number of melodramatic gestures, Melinda meets her future husband, an English baronet who later becomes a saintly doctor in London and a pioneer of National Health. In Spain, Melinda adopts a speechless orphan. Years later, after her husband's death and her adopted daughter's move to the States, Melinda returns home for her last great struggle, the fight for civil rights. Again, she finds herself mothering an orphan, a young black man whom she supports through college and law school. Settle covers a lot of ground in her breathless account of romantic idealists in a tumultuous century. A counter-myth of the southern belle, this entertaining and fully imagined re-creation would make a great miniseries.