Ophelia’s War: The Secret Story of a Mormon Turned Madam

Written by Alison L. McLennan
Review by Jackie Drohan

Ophelia’s War tells the riveting life story of Ophelia Oatman, an orphaned Mormon girl coming of age and fighting for physical and spiritual survival on the 19th-century Utah frontier. Ophelia is at once heartbreakingly vulnerable and heroic as she battles exploitation and abandonment to preserve her social identity and mixed family legacy. At the story’s core is her long-hidden ruby necklace, both treasure and burden. It will ultimately prove to be her very personal salvation.

Each chapter is a jewel in itself, threading through the barren landscape like told beads, presenting a fascinating array of characters: Ophelia’s abusive Uncle Luther, a riverboat gambler; Pearl Kelly, infamous Madam; and the astonishing lone Native woman who saves Ophelia’s life when she is left to die in the desert. Ophelia is an existentialist champion, who navigates all hazards thrown her way, refusing to be victimized. McLennan’s style is reminiscent of Hemingway in its demonstrative elegance, and her historical realism is flawless.

A truly compelling novel of moral exile and self-redemption. Enthusiastically recommended.