Enemy Women

Written by Paulette Jiles
Review by Alice Logsdon

Most Americans know why the Civil War was fought and can name some of the battles or identify major figures on both sides. Less well known are the ways in which the war affected lives far from those famous battlefields. Enemy Women tells this story.

While the state of Missouri is officially Union, the southeastern part of the state is largely Confederate. Troops from both sides have made the Ozark Mountain area a place of terror and violence. The Colley family has survived four years of uncertainty by remaining neutral. That ends in November of 1864, the day the Union Militia arrests Squire Colley on dubious charges of treason, leaving daughter Adair and her younger sisters alone, their house burning. They set out to find their father and bring him home.

That hope unravels when Adair is also arrested, having been denounced for ‘aiding the enemy’ by a fellow traveler. Sent to a women’s prison in St. Louis, Adair manages to keep her spirit intact, though her health begins to fail. Help comes from an unexpected source and she escapes, alone and desperate, but driven by thoughts of home, family, and the promises made by her rescuer.

Paulette Jiles has created a compelling heroine in Adair Randolph Colley. She is witty, pragmatic, honest and stubborn. While Jiles’s writing is ripe with imagery, it is also steeped in the vernacular peculiar to the time and place. This is an unsentimental look at a tragic period in American history, backed up by excerpts from letters, memoirs and war documents. I highly recommend it.