Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Miss Lizzie's War

Miss Lizzie's War
by Rosemary Agonito

Why did you choose this book? I love historical fiction and particularly Civil War era fiction
When did you read this book? June 2012
Who should read this book? anyone who enjoys Civil War era fiction
Source: library
Here is a synopsis of Miss Lizzie’s War from Goodreads, where it rates 4.00 stars.

As the Civil War ground on, an underground Unionist movement flourished in the heart of the
Confederacy, led by an unlikely leader. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy and well connected member of Richmond’s elite, risked everything to help save the Union, skillfully directing this clandestine group and becoming General Ulysses S. Grant’s spy in Richmond. Surrounded by a cadre of “slaves” secretly freed and working with her at the risk of their lives--and hers--Lizzie becomes a pivotal character in the narrative that reveals the complexity and horror of war and the possibility of ultimate redemption.

Based on an incredible true story, Miss Lizzie's War revolves around a number of elements: the intrigue involved in Elizabeth’s double life, her scheme to plant a former slave as her spy in the Jefferson Davis home, her secret romance with a Union prisoner, the dangerous work and conspiracies entailed in running a spy network for the Federal Government in the Confederate capital, terrifying flights to freedom engineered by Elizabeth for escaped prisoners and slaves, and ongoing Confederate surveillance, investigations and arrests of Unionists.

My Review 

This book is historical fiction at its best! When I choose historical fiction, I look for a book that is not only set in a historical time period, but is also one that tells me a bit about the events and people that were part of that history. Thiat means I expect to be reading an embellished version of real people and real events, and to learn something I didn't already know. This book does that very well! You see, the main character in this book is Elizabeth Van Lew, a REAL person; a woman who was a spy for the Union and who was credited by General Grant with being crucial to the intelligence gathering for the Union. I had never heard Elizabeth. She was a fascinating, smart, and very brave woman!

Elizabeth is a member of a wealthy and well-respected Richmond family. She is out-spoken about her opposition to the rebellion and slavery. Richmond, of course, is the capitol of the Confederacy, and her Union-leanings are not appreciated. She uses her influence to gain entry to the prisons to minister to the Union soldiers, citing her ‘Christian duty’. She is suspected many times of being disloyal to the Confederacy, but she has friends in high places and manages to deflect the suspicions while becoming more involved in spying. Elizabeth’s father is dead, and one interesting technique the author uses to show how Elizabeth wrestles with her conscience is through conversations with her father’s ‘ghost’. I never quite figured out if he was an actual ghost, or a dream, or just Elizabeth’s imagination, but it works very well to give us insight into Elizabeth’s thought processes.

This book was NOT a quick read, because there was so much historical detail included. But it was a GOOD read! The book goes into a lot of detail on some of the key events of the Civil War. One thing I really appreciated is the author notes at the end, where she was very clear about what was fact and what was embellishment, and which characters were creations of her imagination. She also explained WHY she used some of the fictional characters and how they worked to tell the story of Elizabeth Van Lew. This book did what all good historical fiction does, and motivated me to google Elizabeth and learn more about her. I highly recommend this for any Civil War buff or reader of historical fiction. It would make a great ‘extra’ reading for ‘Women’s History’ week!

My Rating:  ★★★★1/2  4-1/2 Stars

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