ENEMY WOMEN by Paulette Jiles
Reviewed by Janet Lan, Friday Morning Book Group.....take our poll!
(January 27, 2005) We read this first novel by a prize-winning poet at a time in history when the horrors of war enter our living rooms nightly and man's inhumanity to man, women and children cannot be denied. This historical romantic novel brings us to the 1860's when, during the American Civil War, man was yet again showing his darker, crueler side. Indeed in the book, the atrocities committed against innocent women and children on a personal level easily rival those in the current world conflicts.
Without giving too much of the story away, suffice it to say that we follow the devastating results of the actions of the Union militia on a family in the southern Ozarks in Missouri. The Union militia act upon their belief that the remaining women and children in the region are supplying clothing and food to a vigilante southern militia group led by a bloodthirsty preacher. This vigilante group is attempting to defend the women and children who have been left alone and defenseless by their fighting men in the Confederate army. Unfortunately, thrown into these dire circumstances, is an unlikely and unbelievable romance between the 18-year-old protagonist and her Union officer captor, but what follows is a remarkable story of escape and survival, beautifully and poetically written.
Our book group enjoyed the fact that at the start of each chapter there are several quotes from referenced primary and secondary sources from the civil war, authenticating the historical part of the novel. Some felt that this technique broke up the flow of the story, but we were nevertheless reassured that there was historical validity in what we were reading. None of us were aware of the battles between the militias during this period. The fact that women and children who barely understood the reasons for the conflict were the victims, made this dreadful war come alive. We also discussed tuberculosis, the treatment of bullet wounds today and in the nineteenth century and the dehumanizing effects of war, which this novel so admirably portrays.
Some of us found that the lack of quotation marks during dialogue made it hard to distinguish thought from the spoken word. In an interview, Jiles has said she used this technique to give a dreamlike quality to the novel. The author spent her early childhood in Missouri and had a proximity to and love of horses. The portions of the book about the behavior of horses were particularly convincing. However the sudden reappearance of a stolen beloved horse seemed an extraordinary coincidence and we allowed for poetic license in this and the rather conventional and unconvincing love story.
Overall our group felt that this was a beautifully written and compelling novel. We were introduced to little known civil war events through the eyes of a young girl and her remarkable Homeric journey.
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