Cora Pool is imprisoned by geography and society. She lives on Deere Isle, Maine; a small Yankee enclave separated from the New England mainland and is imprisoned by terrible weather for much of the year. In addition, she is married to a Tennessean who is fighting for the Confederacy, so her neighbors consider her a traitor.
Cora’s friend, Susannah Ashford, constantly exchanges one prison for another as the war causes her to move to areas of safety. She lives in Tennessee and survives the Battle of Nashville, only to retreat to Vicksburg, Mississippi, which she perceives as a place of refuge. There, she becomes involved in the siege of Vicksburg and is a witness to constant bombardment and increasing starvation.
Through all this misery the two friends, both of whom love their country and want the best for it, share their love of reading - a love which becomes harder and harder to indulge in as books are used for purposes other than their intent - kindling, for example. Cora, who was taught that novel reading was a wicked pastime, reads Uncle Tom’s Cabin and finds that, although she has issues with its literary merit, she sees that novels “open the eyes by winning the heart.” Susannah, who can’t imagine life without reading, keeps her sanity by comparing herself to literary characters such as Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett - a woman who, like Susannah, had an extremely flawed father, whom she loves.
The war and the havoc it wreaks on their families propel these women into survival situations they never could have dreamed of and adventures more challenging that any novels they have read; but, as Susannah reminds Cora, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . we had everything before us and nothing before us . . .” Dickens described the French Revolution; Susannah described the Civil War.
To learn more about this and other books, visit the Boulder City Library at 701 Adams Boulevard, 293-1281, www.bouldercitylibrary.org