A remarkable debut chronicles the challenges a young woman, falsely imprisoned as a spy during the Civil War, faces when her home is destroyed and her heart given to the enemy.
Missouri native Jiles, a poet and memoirist (Cousins, 1992), sets her story in the Ozarks and vividly details one of the most brutal if little-known chapters in the Civil War: the destruction of civilian property and the killing of women, children, and elderly men by an unregulated Union militia. Each chapter is prefaced with extracts from relevant records, adding to the horror; this is war with a very human face—not set-piece battles and glorious charges, but pillage, plunder, and murder. Adair Colley is 18 in the third year of the war when the Union militia, made up of the dregs of the St. Louis waterfront, comes to the Colley family’s farm and assaults their father, a judge and scholar who has refused to take sides in the war, and takes him away after stealing food and horses and setting the barn and house on fire. Adair and her two younger sisters salvage what clothing and supplies they can and set off to find their father. But when a malicious family of horse thieves tells the authorities that Adair is a Confederate spy, she’s put in the women’s prison in St, Louis, a horror out of Dickens or Hogarth. There, she contracts tuberculosis but also falls in love with Major Neumann, her Union interrogator. After he helps her escape, she starts her long journey home, an epic test of bravery, endurance, and resourcefulness as she meets up with the militia, retrieves her stolen horse, and follows lonely and dangerous mountain trails. As Adair struggles to reach home, Neumann, though wounded in action, sets off to find her.
A distinguished epic of war, courage, and love, with a memorable heroine of passion and intelligence. Splendid. N.B.: The BOMC, which has revived the tradition of a celebrity panel to recommend books, has announced that<\I> Enemy Women is its first pick, chosen by panelist Anna Quindlen.)<\I>