Monday, June 25, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Union Quilters: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini -- Historical Fiction

This novel is a companion to The Runaway Quilt and The Sugar Camp Quilt. The residents of Water's Ford, Pennsylvania remain fiercely loyal to the Union as the first shots of the Civil War are fired. When Lincoln calls for volunteers to fight the rebels, the men answer the call. Quiet, scholarly Thomas Nelson leaves his beloved wife Dorothea and baby Abigail to march off to fight the rebels, taking along one of his wife's famous quilts. His brother-in-law, Dr. Jonathan Granger enlists as a surgeon while Abel Wright desperately wants to fight to free the slaves but is denied because of the color of his skin. Abel refuses to give up and vows to find a way to save his country. Hans Bergstrom refuses to march off to war. He doesn't believe violence is ever an answer. He is form in his convictions, causing strife between himself and his outspoken sister and adoring wife.The women left behind must deal with the agonizing loss of their loved ones, especially Gerda Bergstrom who isn't allowed to publicly share her feelings for Jonathan. She channels all her anger and frustration at being left behind into scathing newspaper editorials while Dorothea decides to turn the quilting circle's efforts into raising funds for the soldiers from Water's Ford. While the men fight on the front, the women on the homefront struggle to find their voices and do their duty to save the Union. Though this book is a companion, enough of past events are referenced so the book stands alone. The plot is not quite as compelling as The Runaway Quilt. The story jumps between the heads of Gerda, Dorothea and Constance Wright as well as the heads of the three men. The changes are a bit jarring. The story would have been better told in straight omniscient point-of-view. Also, the middle of the book is taken up with summarizing the battles and telling a little of how the characters were involved. I skimmed these sections as I have read extensively about the Civil War both primary and secondary sources. I was compelled to read on to learn who survived and how the women back in Water's Ford dealt with the devastating effects of the war. I liked the concept of exploring how women found their voices. It's a subject I've read about and written on quite a lot. However, I feel that the author wrote from a contemporary perspective giving the characters issues to think about and discuss when they probably would not have thought about. It's difficult to really know what women at the time were thinking, outside of the handful of well-known women who wrote and spoke publicly. I liked the characters and learning about what happened to them since I read and enjoyed the previous two novels. I empathized with Gerda the most. I liked her outspokenness but felt sometimes she was a bit too harsh, especially towards Charlotte. I also really enjoyed and related to Dorothea. Of all of the women, she sounds the most realistic. Constance isn't as prominent as the other ladies so the reader doesn't get to know her as well. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy studying women's history, the Civil War and those who have read the previous two historical novels dealing with the 19th century Bergstroms and their friends.

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