Paulette Jiles, 2002
The Civil War Era was one of the most divisive and heart-rending in our nation's history. For 18-year-old Adair Colley it brought about intense personal change as well. Although the Colley family was neutral on the issues of secession and slavery, many men from their area in Missouri Ozarks had joined the Confederate army.
One day in November 1864 the Union Militia swept in on their mission to rout Confederate sympathizers. They set the Colley homestead on fire, and arrested Adair's father, a mild-mannered justice of the peace. Adair and her two younger sisters gathered together what they could and set off to find shelter. Along the way, however, Adair herself is arrested on charges of "enemy collaboration" and sent to a women's prison in St. Louis.
There she meets a Union major, William Neumann, who is to be her interrogator, and the two fall in love. Before he is sent back to the front, Neumann helps Adair plan an escape and, not long after he leaves, she makes her break. Weakened and alone, Adair must now travel through dangerous territory as she makes her way home—not knowing who or what she will find there. (From the publisher.)
• Where—Salem, Missouri, USA
• Education—B.A., University of Missouri
• Awards—The Governor General’s Award for Poetry,Canada;
for Celestial Navigation; The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction
Prize, Canada, and the Willa Literary Award for Historical
Fiction, U.S. for Enemy Women
• Currently—lives near San Antonio, Texas
Poet, memoirist, and novelist Paulette Jiles was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks and moved to Canada in 1969 after graduating with a degree in Romance languages from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She spent eight years as a journalist in Canada, before turning to writing poetry. In 1984, she won the Governor General's Award (Canada's highest literary honor) for Celestial Navigation, a collection of poems lauded by the Toronto Star as "...fiercely interior and ironic, with images that can mow the reader down."
In 1992, Jiles published Cousins, a beguiling memoir that interweaves adventure and romance into a search for her family roots. Ten years later, she made her fiction debut with Enemy Women (2002), the survival story of an 18-year-old woman caged with the criminally insane in a St. Louis prison during the Civil War. Janet Maslin raved in the New York Times, "This is a book with backbone, written with tough, haunting eloquence by an author determined to capture the immediacy of he heroine's wartime odyssey." The book won the Willa Literary Award for Historical Fiction (U.S.) and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize (Canada).
In her second novel, 2007's Stormy Weather, Jiles mined another rich trove of American history. Set in Texas oil country during the Great Depression, the story traces the lives of four women, a widow and her three daughters, as they struggle to hold farm and family together in a hardscrabble world of dust storms, despair, and deprivation. In its review, the Washington Post praised the author's lyrical prose, citing descriptions that "crackle with excitement."
A dual citizen of the United States and Canada, Jiles currently lives on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas.
From a 2007 Barnes & Noble interview:
• When I lived in Nelson, British Columbia, there were three or four of us women who were struggling writers; we were very poor and we had a great deal of fun. We shared writing and money and wine. Woody (Caroline Woodward) had a great, huge Volkswagen bug—green—named Greena Garbo. When any of us managed to publish something there were celebrations. It was a wonderful time. They always managed to show up at my place just when I'd baked bread. One time Meagan and Joanie arrived to share with me a horrible dinner they had made of cracked wheat and onions—we were actually all short of food. I had just made lasagna—and they ate all of my lasagna and left me with that vile dish of groats and onions. And then we all got married and went in different directions.
• I have a small ranch that keeps me busy—two horses, a donkey, a cat, a dog, fences, a pasture—I and spend lots of time preventing erosion, clearing cedar, etc.
• When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:
Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye gives a clear and cogent analysis of the various sorts of imaginative narratives, among them the quest story. It does not assign value to any one type of story. I came upon Frye's The Well-Tempered Critic in college and loved it. It has the same sort of descriptive brilliance as Anatomy. It was a relief from the contemporary insistence that only the novel of psychological exploration was of literary value."
Other influential books include The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway; All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. (Author bio from Barnes & Noble.)
This is a book with backbone, written with tough, haunting eloquence by an author determined to capture the immediacy of her heroine's wartime odyssey. And Ms. Jiles, in her debut novel, has brought spellbinding intensity to the process of leading readers backward through time.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
Comparisons with Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain are bound to arise, especially with regard to Adair's odyssey. Her adventures in the ravaged countryside are much more credible than Inman's in Frazier's novel, and the characters she meets are not caricatures or symbols; nor is Jiles's ending sentimental. It may not be saying much to call this novel better—Cold Mountain was overrated—but the real excitement in Enemy Women lies in watching a writer become an accomplished novelist before one's eyes. As the narrative gathers steam, Jiles's descriptions come alive and her dialogue attains a homely authenticity.
New York Times Book Review
I loved Enemy Women. It is a gritty, memorable book, full of the things I like best in a novel - a sparky heroine, an unsentimental love story, a confident retelling of the past. Jiles' experience as a poet has clearly helped her to create a dreamlike style that perfectly reflects the story's war-torn landscape. It is a delight from start to finish, without a single misstep. Enemy Women deserves the Pulitzer Prize.
Toronto Globe and Mail
For Adair Randolph Colley, at 18 the eldest daughter of a widowed Missouri Ozarks schoolmaster and justice of the peace, the Civil War becomes personal when her father, who has remained neutral in the conflict, is arrested by the Union militia, their home is nearly burned and their possessions stolen. At the start of this spirited first novel, Adair and her two younger sisters try to follow their father's captors, but Adair is falsely denounced as a Confederate spy. At the prison in St. Louis, upright commandant Maj. William Neumann is embarrassed to be interrogating women and has requested a transfer to a fighting unit. He's touched by Adair's beauty and spirit and asks her to give him some information so she can be released. Instead, she writes the story of her life, augmented by folk tales and fables, and he finds himself falling in love. When he gets his reassignment orders, he proposes marriage and asks her to escape, promising to find her after the war. Thus begins a long and terrible journey for each of them. Poet and memoirist Jiles has written a striking debut novel whose tone lingers poignantly. Not a typical romantic heroine, Adair has the saucy naevete of an unsophisticated countrywoman and the wily bravery born of an honest character. Jiles's strengths include a sure command of period vernacular and knowledge of the social customs among backwoods people, as well as a delicate hand with the love story. Sure to be touted as a new Cold Mountain, this stark, unsentimental, yet touching novel will not suffer in comparison.
(Adult/High School) A well-told historical novel related by a young woman who was imprisoned during the Civil War. The story begins in southeastern Missouri where spoiled, outspoken Adair Colley, 18, lives with her bookish father, crippled brother, and two younger sisters. When Tim Reeves's Union militia burns their house and barn, taking her father prisoner, Adair and her sisters set off on horseback to plead for his release. Their brother has escaped both the army and Reeves's band by hiding out with Southern guerrillas. Adair is denounced as a spy and taken to prison, where she shares a cell with prostitutes. Soon she comes in contact with Major William Newmann, who tries to convince her to turn in her brother so she can be released. Instead of a confession, Adair composes an elaborate fairy tale. The major is unable to deny his feelings for her, and urges her to escape just before he is transferred to the front lines. The rest of the book deals with her risky trek home and the major's exploits in battle and subsequent release from the army. Similar to Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Atlantic Monthly, 1997), this love story gives vivid descriptions of the dangerous countryside and glimpses into the horrors of war and its aftermath. Chapters begin with contemporary journal entries, letters, and news stories. Magical, lyrical, and hauntingly beautiful, this title is a must read for its strong female protagonist and a side of the Civil War not usually dealt with in history books. —Pat Bender, The Shipley School, Bryn Mawr, PA.
As a love story, this one quickly loses steam, but it becomes obvious that Jiles is a gifted Missouri historian who brings to light many overlooked Civil War facts and acutely portrays Missouri's logistic misfortune as a hotbed of both Union and Confederate violence.— Elsa Gaztambide
The American Civil War has already yielded one contemporary classic in Cold Mountain and there's every indication that this could swiftly follow suit. It's late November of 1864 in Missouri, the penultimate year of the war. Adair Colley and her family have thus far eluded the plundering Union militia, but their luck has finally run out. Their house is torched and Adair's father taken away, leaving a broken household with meagre resources. Smart and courageous 18-year-old Adair is determined to retrieve her father and sets out on foot with her sisters to find him, but it's not long until she is falsely denounced as a spy and imprisoned. But in the best tradition of Southern heroines stretching back to Scarlett O'Hara, little daunts her and despite having scant hope of freedom she remains resolute in her quest to restore her family, employing her gifts as a storyteller to enchant her captors. The whole book possesses the quality of a timeless fable and its style—sinewy, restrained and yet hauntingly eloquent—takes a while to fully engage, but once it does it never relinquishes its grip upon the imagination. Adair becomes representative of all those who ultimately triumph over insuperable obstacles and the story of her growing love affair with an army major unfolds with absolute plausibility as two disjointed lives find unexpected solace in one another. Surprisingly lyrical and yet utterly unsentimental, it's a powerful tale of hope and self-determination set in a time of war.
Kirkus Reviews - UK
1. The first chapter of the book paints the Civil War in the Ozarks with a very broad brush. It is a short chapter, and yet the emotional tone of the chapter shifts between the beginning and the end. How does the tone change, and what techniques does the author use to change it? What is the tone in the beginning of the chapter; what is it at the end of the chapter?
2. The scope of the novel is larger than Adair's personal relationships with her family and the Major. There are battle scenes and longjourneys, depictions of the city of St. Louis and its wartime waterfront. What technical choices does the author make to distinguish the "larger picture" scenes from the narratives that deal exclusively with personal relationships?
3. Although Enemy Women is a novel, many of the historical events it describes are real, and the author includes snippets from letters, journals, newspapers, and military dispatches at the beginning of each chapter. Do you like this technique of mixing the actual with the imagined? How does it affect your reading and/or enjoyment of the narrative? Is there a thread or ongoing story unfolding through the historical quotes themselves?
4. Do you think the author has succeeded at portraying 19th century personalities and attitudes through her characters? Or do you feel she has simply transposed late 20th century attitudes and behavior onto the Civil War era? What's the difference?
5. The author goes against convention by not using quotation marks throughout the book. How did this unusual technique make you feel? Were you immediately comfortable, or did it take you a while to get used to it? How did it affect your experience of the dialogue?
6. Adair, and other characters in the book, reveal their inner lives through their actions rather than through devices such as interior monologue or omniscient description or flashbacks to childhood. How is this different from methods usually employed in other novels? Does the author use dialogue to reveal character?
7. There are no flashbacks in the novel. Where and how does Adair impart some information about the Colley family's life before the war? The author then doubles back and casts doubt on the authenticity of the information. How and why does the author do this?
8. At one point, the Major says to Adair, "Had you met me at a social gathering, you would probably not even have spoken to me, because I am a Yankee officer." Had Adair and the Major met under other circumstances, would she have ignored him?
9. Enemy Women has a rich array of minor characters. Among them are Christopher Columbus Jones (the ostler at the Major's boardinghouse), Lt. Brawley, Mr. and Mrs. Greathouse (the couple who argue over the hat), Greasy John, the "botanical steam doctor" in the town of Valles Mines, Jessie Hyssop, Colonel Timothy Reeves (who only appears at the very end of the book, although we hear about him from the beginning). Who are your favorite minor characters, and why?
10. Rivers play an important role in Enemy Women, both as symbols and as actual barriers. In the 19th century, rivers were far more than symbols; they were dangerous crossing points that had to be negotiated at some risk. What significance is there in the name of each river? Does a change occur to the hero or heroine as he or she meets new tests or enemies on the far side?
11. Adair changes over the course of the book, from an audacious, outspoken, fearless young woman to someone more inner-directed, cautious, quiet, even frightened. Where are the crucial scenes that demonstrate this transformation?
12. When Adair finally returns home, she finds a family of traveling players has occupied her empty house. What purpose does this serve in the narrative? Is the author being lightly satiric through the player's explanation of the roles of the "aristocratic girl" and the "saucy girl"?
13. At the end of the book, when the Major stands before the empty Colley homestead and calls out to Adair, saying he has kept his promise, what famous early 20th century poem do these lines evoke?
14. In the beginning of the book, Adair seems dubious about marriage, and reluctant to give up her freedom. By the end of the book, though, she has apparently changed her mind. How do we know that Adair has fallen in love with the Major, despite her doubts and confusions?
15. At the end of the story, Adair is weak, in many ways as faded and ragged as the Confederacy itself. What small, sneaky symbol at the very end gives the reader hope that Adair may recover and flesh out to become her old self again? (Hint, hint: It's up in the sky.)
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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