Monday, January 11, 2016

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy - Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
Author: Karen Abbott
Publication Date: 7/1/14
Pages: 513
How I Found It: I heard about it from several places this past year.
Date Completed: 12/24/15

Summary: We don't often think of the women who played roles in the Civil War. They have been largely ignored by history. No longer. Abbott explores the lives and work of four women, each passionately immersed in the divide between North and South.

What I Thought: Typically, I steer away from American history. To me, it has often seemed one long progression of wars. I absolutely value the importance of knowing our own history and I received a great education therein during my school years. My aversion to the subject does not preclude me from an ability to pass the citizenship test, should I have ever been required to take such a thing. I'm no U.S. History scholar, but I can hold my own. Which, may also be part of why I prefer reading about the history of other countries and cultures. We are so young and naive on the global spectrum. The history of our country pales in comparison to the centuries of rich content others can boast. Plus, we have no royalty. That fact alone makes me immediately less interested. 

Ok, but seriously, I simply don't read a lot of American history, especially not anything surrounding the wars. Yet, the idea of exploring feminine roles in the Civil War intrigued me. As I said above, we do not often think about the roles women played in centuries before the 20th. That's what happens when men write the history books. While more women than we will ever truly know played roles in the conflict, Abbott chose four specific women to focus the book around. I thought that decision did a nice job of grounding the story, keeping it interesting and closer to narrative nonfiction than solely a presentation of research. 

Abbott relayed a lot of information, but she did keep the narrative interesting and engaging. I appreciated feeling the connection to the women, particularly Emma Edmonds, who posed as a man in order to fight and serve as medical assistance on the battlefield. At the same time, Abbott sprinkled fascinated facts throughout the storyline line, such as this one: at the start of the war, the Northern states had 22.3 million people while the South had 9.1, 4 million of them being slaves. Let those numbers sink in for a minute. To me, they were staggering. 

Reading this book came at a good time for me. Since transplanting ourselves to the South, I am becoming increasingly aware of the long-ago divide that separated my new state from that in which I was born and raised. Of course, these days, we are united once more. However, the longer I live here, the more I become aware of the cultural differences and even some lingering tensions over our disparaging view of history. As with any war, the two sides tell the stories slightly differently. 

If you are a Civil War or American history buff on any level, I recommend this book. I doubt you have much previous knowledge of these women, perhaps with the exception of Belle Boyd, upon whom the Gone With the Wind character of Belle Watling was loosely based. If you are like me, the new female perspective on historical wars will make you wonder about other women risked their lives and livelihoods to change the course of history.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Unlikely
If You Liked This Try: The Indifferent Stars Above / The Help / Wench

A Reduced Review: An interesting look at four women who fought in the Civil War - each in the best way they knew how. 

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