This historical novel by Jennifer Chiaverini (Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker), tell the story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a young well to do lady of Richmond, Virginia during the turbulent Civil War. This historical figure risked her life as a Union sympathizer to pass information to Northern forces and offer aid and comfort to the wounded Union prisoners of war that lived in deplorable conditions. The author deftly tells her story and offers readers a fascinating portrait of this amazing woman. She was so well regarded by the North that when she died destitute in 1900, Massachusetts admirers arraigned for a boulder from the grounds of the Massachusetts State House to be shipped to Richmond to serve as her headstone.
This is a breathtaking historical novel which takes place in 1899. Joshua Duell is a young man, fresh from the shores of Cuba where he fought, reluctantly, in what became know as the Spanish-American War, where he witnessed his brother’s death, which he blames on himself. His mother has recently perished in a shipwreck off Cape Cod, after attending his brother’s funeral. Devastated, Joshua takes the train to Provincetown, the tip of Cape Cod, uncertain why he is drawn to this remote place, near where his mother disappeared. He ends up joining the U.S. Life-Saving Service (a precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard), which patrols the treacherous coastline and rescues crew and passengers from shipwrecks. The work is almost unbearably hard on the body and soul, as not all people are able to be rescued. The scenes of stormy seas, physical hardship and dramatic rescues are authentically and wonderfully rendered here. Joshua finds romance (again beautifully drawn), and learns more about his mother’s mysterious fate, as well as the true meaning of friendship and loyalty.
I highly recommend this novel, there is not a false note here, which is more than I can say about many books I’ve read, even those I’ve truly enjoyed. This goes to the top of my list of favorite books this year. It is published locally (Cape Cod), and so best acquired by going to http://www.titcombsbookshop.com where it can be purchased for $18.95, and shipped to anywhere. The book is enhanced by the authors’ daughter’s beautiful illustrations, as well as photos and illustrations of rescues and rescuers.
Here is another inspiring illustration by Winslow Homer, The Lifeline, which plays a small part near the end of this magnificent novel.