Set during the American Civil War, Homeland is not just an epistolary novel; it’s a heartfelt conversation between two women, one a daughter of the North, the other of the South. Cora and her Tennessee-born husband have left the South to make their home in Boston, Massachusetts. Her correspondence with Susanna begins when Susanna – in Greene County, Tennessee – fears Cora might betray a secret inadvertently revealed. Each in their turn, the fears and everyday casualties of war are as much the topic of conversation as the latest novel one or the other has read.
The similarities in their lives are as many as the differences: Susanna is single and enrolled as an art student; Cora is married and about to become a mother. Both understand and respect the other’s point of view. When Cora’s husband, Emory, is to sign on with the Union army, Cora relocates to her family home on Deer Island in Maine. But Emory joins the Confederates in Tennessee, and Cora’s battle comes closer to home as she is viewed in some social circles as a traitor.
Though I adored both principal characters, I found the novel a challenge to follow at times. While the lack of chronology is understandable as new letters were begun before answers to previous letters were received, the paper trail was further confounded because the letters written but not sent were included in the text – voiceless cries into the dark. Separating sent from not sent was a layer of complication that at times hampered understanding, though this makes a great excuse for re-reading. Cora and Susanna are such good literary company!