Volume 95, Issue 80

Wednesday, March 6, 2002
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Amanda Marshall's got a story for you

Enemy Women: a strong debut for Jiles

You Are Home successfully alienates readers

Outside the Box

Dreams? More like nightmares

Enemy Women: a strong debut for Jiles

Enemy Women
Paulette Jiles
Harper Flamingo Canada

Four stars (out of five)

By Amy Bertoni
Gazette Writer

In Paulette Jiles' first novel, Enemy Women, the author stuns her audience with a tale of how one woman's strength and conviction can propel her to challenge an entire system.

The novel's focus is the unbelievably cruel mistreatment of women during the American Civil War and examines how the heroine, Adair Colley, finds the inner-strength to fight for her freedom.

At the novel's opening, Adair's family is torn apart when the Union Army falsely believes Adair's father is a Confederate spy. When the soldiers capture their father, Adair and her two younger sisters set out on an expedition to find him, only to be further disappointed when the army declares Adair a Confederate spy as well.

The novel then delves into the harrowing and horrific aspects of what it's like to be a woman in the prisons of the Union army. It captivates the audience, offering them a realistic description of what really happened to the imprisoned women in Missouri's Southeastern Ozarks.

Jiles gains the reader's interest and trust by opening every chapter with real life stories of women's experiences in these prisons and then proceeds to do these women further justice by providing an account of the tragedies through Adair's captivating experience.

The author seems committed to giving a voice to the women who experienced the oppressive surroundings of Civil War prisons and displays a great ability to make Adair seem human, although her actions are anything but.

The protagonist, Adair, is painted beautifully as Jiles demonstrates an exceptional ability to capture the character's complexity. Adair's multi-faceted personality is depicted as brave and almost rigid. Her emotional sensitivity also gives her a sense of humanity.

This sensitive side of Adair becomes most apparent while she reciprocates her love for Major William Newman, an officer in the women's prison.

However, Adair emerges as loyal to her convictions, even when faced with the option of possibly gaining her freedom if she will break free from the truth. Newman wants to give Adair her freedom, however, he can only do so if she lies and tells the Union Army that she has information about the Confederates.

Jiles does a formidable job in creating a tension between a woman who is desperately seeking freedom, but who will not succumb to betraying her beliefs and morals to do so.

This is a triumphant first novel for Jiles and it seems she will be as successful in her fiction writing as she is in her poetry. Jiles successfully presents a novel that will shock even the most desensitized audience.

Enemy Women is more than just a series of horrendous stories from the Civil War era. Instead, it engages its audience with a capacity to inspire and offer hope in even the most staggering of times.

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Copyright The Gazette 2002