Book Review, Widow of Gettysburg

“I was reading that book.” The lady in the chair next to me at the nail salon peered over my shoulder. “I haven’t finished yet, though. It was really sad and hard to read.”

I bantered with her briefly, telling her I’d just barely cracked the book’s spine. Then with a polite smile, tucked my nose back into the pages of, Widow of Gettysburg. Mentally I pleaded, “Don’t talk to me!” I came less for the foot massage and more for the uninterrupted hour to transform myself into Liberty Holloway.

Widow of Gettysburg is a beautifully done historical fiction novel reviving the all-but-forgotten legacies of the valiant women behind the lines during the Civil War. Liberty Holloway, a fresh bride, was widowed before the story opens. Now, bravely, she muddles through the arduous tasks of maintaining her farm and converting it into an inn.

In the first act, the steps toward conflict are subtle. Liberty has irritating conversations with her mother-in-law.  When she attempts to lay aside her mourning clothes, she receives cold-shoulders from overly-pious community women. A mysterious but attractive stranger shares a meal and disappears. A swelling, lonely, restlessness tone underlies the narrative.

Jocelyn Green is superb at developing conflict, steeping the reader like a well-used tea bag, in the emotions of each character. By the end of the first act, all of the primary characters have been introduced, and the reader can empathize with each one even as they are at odds with each other.

Act II, “The Heavens Collide”, in every sense of the word. Looming rumors of the battles drawing close to Gettysburg are suddenly proved violently true. In the span of seconds, Holloway Farm is seized to serve as a field hospital for Confederate wounded. Though her husband fought and died for the Union’s cause, Liberty finds herself compelled by her faith and compassion to nurse the wounded men spilling over her property.

Here I experienced what my companion at the nail salon had expressed. This book is hard to read. Green holds nothing back in describing bloody, do-or-die amputations. She doesn’t shy away from depicting ravaged bodies strewn across battle fields, or piles of life-less limbs, the blood seeping into kitchen floors, creeks and rivers tainted with corpses or barn doors converted to operating tables.

Neither does Green take sides when revealing the motives behind both the Union and Confederacy’s causes. Fearlessly, she reminds the readers that there was corruption as well as innocence on both sides of the lines. She shows the vulnerability of women as well as their courage and tenacity to rise above their fears and weaknesses.

Woven into the very real conflict of war, Green deploys the requisite romantic conflict. But even that is complicated by the undercurrent of racism, the very fuel that stoked the fire of the Civil War.

Book 2 in the, “Heroines Behind the Lines” series is exquisite. Nothing Green begins is left undone. At the same time, there is no pretentious “happily ever after”, as there never is in real life and certainly didn’t exist in the aftermath of the Civil War.

This book is well researched; an incredibly useful tool for studying American history. Also, the theme of faith is well developed making the book practical for Christian book clubs and deeper discussion.

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