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The novel is set during the last year of the American Civil War. There are enough cruel incidents depicted in the novel; but to emphasize its more general nature, each chapter begins with a contemporary extract depicting the ruthlessness of that war.
The prose is magnificent: muscular, vivid, poetic, very American. Idiosyncratically, there are no quotation marks around dialogue, which is irritating at first; but one soon gets used to it.
Union troops - both regular army and a lawless and brutal militia - are more or less in control of Missouri, though resisted by Confederate guerillas. The central figure of the book is Adair Colley, aged eighteen when the militia took away her father, a local judge, as a suspect, stole their horses and plundered and wrecked her house. Adair and her two younger sisters set out on a 120 mile walk to the local Union headquarters to find out where their father had been taken. When they got there, Adair was arrested, accused of giving information to Confederates, and sent to a grim women's prison in St. Louis. Major William Neumann, who interrogates her, says she can be free if she writes an account naming the people to whom she is said to have given information. Instead she writes a poetic account of her life, and then a further account of a Confederate plot which is quite obviously a spoof. The major is charmed by these; he has already been impressed by this feisty and fearless young woman.
He falls in love with her and she with him. Having found the task of interrogating women distasteful, he asked to be transferred to fighting units (and there will be grisly accounts of what he experiences at the front); and before he goes, he helps Adair to escape from the prison.
Wracked with consumption, she makes her way back towards her home. In one place (the coincidence is hard to believe) she is reunited with her favourite horse, and, even harder to believe, even finds a horse that had belonged to her sister. Afoot or on horseback, it is a long and circuitous route, as she has to avoid roads where she might meet soldiers of either side; and there are many pages of descriptions of the wild terrain through which she travels - many days without seeing a soul, punctuated at times by friendly or by dangerous encounters. One marvels at Adair's courage and endurance, even if I found the account of this odyssey a little too long. Her journey ends (but does not end) and the Civil War has just ended also. Tough-minded Paulette Jiles does not give us, after such traumas, even a relatively happy ending.
This is an extraordinary novel by any standards. It's got a touching love story set in an appalling civil war that brutalises pretty much everyone involved. Some of it is very hard to read, whether the narrative of Adair and her Major, or the interspersed documentary records of actual testimonies. Sometimes it's very funny, others frightening and shocking. What makes it unusual is its focus on women, children and "incidental" people and animals. I'm a huge reader; I really recommend this book to men and women alike. Chick lit it most definitely isn't.
I found the writing first class and the narrative absorbing. I was fascinated by Jiles' depiction of Adair Colley and her grit, bravery and endurance. The atmosphere was very effectively evoked. Good, exciting stuff and well-researched! I found the Civil War period extremely engrossing.
If you have read "The Last Runaway" by Tracey Chevalier, then, like me, you might be interested to also read "Enemy Women" to find out more background to personal struggles during some hard times in American history.
Der Roman spielt in den Südstaaten während des amerikanischen Bürgerkriegs. Frauen verlieren ihre Männer und oft genug auch ihr Heim. Grotesk werden sie pauschal verdächtigt, sie könnten den Feind durch Unterstützung und Spionage unterstützen: „Enemy Women“. Manche werden denunziert und verhaftet, viele sind obdachlos. Flüchtlingsströme entstehen. Parallelen zur Gegenwart werden deutlich, ohne dass man mit der Nase draufgestoßen wird. Neben der weiblichen Hauptperson tauchen immer wieder andere Frauengestalten auf, deren Schicksale und was der Krieg aus ihnen gemacht hat (im Guten wie im Schlechten) schlaglichtartig beschrieben werden. Keine Romanze! Der Stil der Autorin ist kraftvoll und berührend. Zugleich ist alles sehr gut recherchiert. Sogar ein Quellenverzeichnis ist vorhanden. Den einzelnen Kapiteln sind Zitate aus Quellen vorangestellt, die ein wenig wie ein griechischer Chor wirken. Habe dies und andere Bücher von Paulette Jiles im englischen Original gelesen. Verstehe gar nicht, warum man noch keine deutschen Übersetzungen findet, anscheinend noch nicht mal von „News of the World“, kürzlich ja mit Tom Hanks verfilmt. Paulette Jiles: unbedingte Empfehlung!
I had to put this book down in disbelief over and over, and I have finally given up. The first two chapters seemed promising, but from there it quickly deteriorated. The author abandoned her nice prose and launched into a plot driven by one completely implausible coincidence after another. It is contrived and predictable. The biggest jarring moment was the "love" scene when a 31 year old man undresses a hardly conscious, weak, very ill 18 year old and touches her without warning or her consent. There is no indication in the text that she wanted this and no indication of a positive reaction from her. Was this romantic? Certainly not. Erotic? Only if you are a molester. I got tired of trying to "suspend my disbelief ." Ugh. Not good for thinking adults and not even good for young adults.
When the Civil War comes up, most of us immediately think of major battles, e.g. Gettysburg, Antietam, fought along the Virginia-Pennsylvania corridor. "Enemy Women" by Paulette Jiles takes place instead in Missouri, one of the 15 slave states, and its story focuses heavily on the injustices and violence suffered by local citizenry. People lost their possessions, their livelihood, basic freedoms, , their loved ones, and sometimes their own lives. Martial law was declared and roving bands of militia populated by untrained thugs, thieves and drunks acted as instant judge, jury and executioner.
Our heroine, 18 year old Adair Colley, witnesses her father beaten and arrested, her home ransacked and set afire, and her horses stolen during one such raid. Adair sets out, along with two of her siblings, to plead to the Union Army for her father's release but is denounced by a strangers on the trail and is herself arrested and jailed. While imprisoned, she is interrogated a number of times by one of the Union officers. A bond forms, but before long, the officer is reassigned, and he pledges to find her once the war is over.
The book is somewhat reminiscent of Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain" in that there are many interesting tales of life on the road while returning home. But frankly, I much preferred Frazier's vignettes - each of which could have stood as an entrancing short story. Like Jiles "The News of the World", this is very well written but I felt only satisfied by its end. I wanted "News" to go on and on, and I was disappointed that the journey in that story had finally ended. I would rate "News" 6 stars, one more than whatever the max is; "Enemy Women" is very good and very informative and I rate that 4 stars. I disliked Jiles' "Sitting in a Club Car...." very much but I will read her "The Color of Lightning" very soon.