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
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