Reviews: ENEMY WOMEN by Paulette Jiles

Several participants in the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011 and the recent challenge read-along have posted reviews of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles.  Here are excerpts from those reviews, and you can click the links to read the full reviews.

Scrappy Cat said:

While I mostly enjoyed the story, I found parts to be unbelievable and thought it was not very well written.  But I learned about the imprisonment of women during the Civil War that I didn’t know about before.

Irene’s desk said:

If I had to cast these two major roles, the Major would have to be Johnny Depp, Adair would have to be Penelope Cruz.  I know she has that accent, but maybe she could act it away.

All in all I enjoyed this book, I loved the relationship with horses Adair had.  I was so very sorry that the war robbed her of her health, wealth and happiness.

Savvy Verse & Wit said:

Questions also are raised about whether Adair would have fallen in love with a union soldier had the war not taken place and they were not thrown together.  Readers may enjoy the plight of Adair, but they also may grow frustrated with her lack of growth and the plodding nature of the prose throughout the book.  War scenes only occur once or twice in the book, and while most of the book is about Adair and her journey, there are a couple of chapters thrown in that focus only on Major Neumann after he is sent to the war front from the St. Louis prison where Adair is held.

Diary of an Eccentric said:

Paulette Jiles’ writing comes alive in the few chapters that focus on Neumann, and I really enjoyed the scenes dealing with the skirmish he’s involved in as he’s joining up with his new unit.  But Neumann is scarcely seen in the last third of the book, and since I found him more interesting than Adair, I’m not surprised that the book lost steam for me.  The lack of quotation marks to distinguish the dialogue also made reading the book a chore.

**Attention participants: Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Week 4: Enemy Women Read-a-Long

This is week four of the Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles read-a-long. Please check out week 1, week 2, and week 3 discussions.  Up to this point, you would have read through chapter 24.

This week’s discussion is for ch. 25 through the end of the book.  We hope that you’ve enjoyed the discussions so far and have commented or answered the questions.

A lot of the latter parts of the book focus on Adair’s time alone in the woods.  She sits and listens to the animals and listens for soldiers and signs of life.  Do you find her reactions to her surroundings as a lone young woman in the woods believable?

S:  Her observations about animals in the woods are baffling to me, with raccoons and others having “arguments” most of the time, rather than just being animals talking to one another or simply making sounds.  Jiles’ description of these animal “conversations” just seemed odd to me, almost as if Adair is not 18, but younger and trying to console herself by making up stories to ease her mind.  Only those stories are not fleshed out in any way, but mentioned by passing comments.  They seemed to elementary for her age, but then again, many times throughout the novel, she’s seemed younger than 18.  By 18 during this time period, I would have expected her to be more mature and self-sufficient than she is.

I also wonder about her suddenly being ok with lying naked in the sun and bathing in the wild when she seems so worried about Union soldiers, etc.  And it is strange that she takes time to follow the “steam doctor’s” advice; the timing of these actions is just odd to me.  If I were trying to escape and get home without being found by the Union, I certainly wouldn’t be sleeping much or bathing in the nude or lying out in the nude for long periods.  I don’t see much evolution in her character, she still seems to be that naive girl we met at the beginning.

A:  Honestly, I found this whole section boring, aside from a few scenes here and there.  I didn’t pick up on Adair making up stories about the animals in the woods, but I think you have to remember that she’s sick and she’s been traveling alone with very few people to talk to.  Her mind is going to wander.

As for her spending so much time sleeping and bathing in the sun, etc., I just attributed that to her sickness and her exhaustion and the need to rest often to keep her horses healthy.  I don’t know why she thought it was the right time to shed her clothes, but she also was thinking about the major and about whether she would be well enough to marry, so maybe that’s why she decided right then and there to follow the steam doctor’s advice.

How did you feel about Major Neumann not making another appearance until the second-to-last chapter, especially considering that some of us are finding his story more interesting than Adair’s?

A:  This really disappointed me.  Jiles took the time to build Major Neumann’s character; we see him and Adair together in the prison and him on the battlefield, but when it’s time for the two of them to make their way to the meeting point (Adair’s home), he falls out of the picture until the very end, and then only to get rid of Tom Poth and find out about Adair’s father.  It seems almost as though Jiles couldn’t decide who was more interesting; she may have wanted to write about a strong girl’s experiences during the war, but found that Adair’s character just couldn’t carry the story alone.  It also makes me wonder why the romance was added to the story anyway.  Adair is shown thinking about the major only a couple of times on her journey back home, making the romance almost a non-issue.  She was going back home with or without Neumann.

S:  I agree the lack of the major in the last part of the book was disappointing, and the end where he shows up shouting that he will wait for her forever and she’s just staring for the longest time is dumb.  I understand that they will be together, but I wanted greater resolution, I wanted more conclusive evidence that she loved him or even thought more of him than as a means of escape from the women’s prison.  And if she didn’t love him, would she tell him or merely marry him because he was the only one around that she knew and that was left.  Jiles disappointed me on so many levels with this book; she relied too heavily on plot devices that were not necessary most of the time, and she failed to expound upon the relationship or the struggles that each would have encountered to get back to one another.  It seems that she was more interested in providing the historical documents she found at the beginning of each chapter than the contents of the chapters themselves.

What are your final impressions of the book?

S:  Ultimately, this book was disappointing to me for a number of reasons, the two-three chapters we saw of the Major were more interesting to me than the entire story of Adair.  The beginning was so quick to get her captured, then her time in prison was so mixed between the poor treatment and the delight of the major, only to give away to the extra long journey home.  I couldn’t identify with her at all, which soured my enjoyment.  The prison chapters were interesting in that there were more characters to see and ponder, but those chapters were short lived.  Adair, at least to me, remained the same naive girl that she was at the beginning.

I really had to push through the slow unfolding of these final chapters to read the end.  I just wanted it to be over and when it was, the ending left me feeling flat, as if nothing was resolved for her or her family.  What happened to her sisters or her brother?  I presume the Major will tell her what happened to her father, but he may want to spare her the news.  To be honest, I have a tough time with Civil War books in general; I’m not sure if the time period doesn’t interest me or if I haven’t found the right book, though I did enjoy Cold Mountain when I read that years ago.

A:   Well, I certainly didn’t like the book as much as I did the first time I read it.  I didn’t hate it, but those last chapters were somewhat boring and a chore to finish.  I didn’t mind Adair; I just thought the chapters that follow her journey fell flat.  Jiles’ writing seemed to come alive with Neumann in battle, but when the focus was on Adair, the story plodded along.  And the end was frustrating, especially the non-reunion of Adair and the major.  I loved their interactions when she was in prison, and I was hoping for more of that at the end, but readers are left wondering what happens when Adair makes her way down the hill.  Do they marry?  Does she survive the consumption?  What about her family and their home?  Honestly, my disappointment has made it difficult for me to think of some good discussion questions, so I hope the other participants will help us out!

What questions did you have?  What did you think?  Feel free to answer these questions in the comments and even pose your own.  We’d love to discuss the book with you!

Week 3: Enemy Women Read-a-Long

This is week 3 of the Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles read-a-long.  If you missed the week 1 and week 2 discussions, please take a minute to join the discussion.

This week, each of us had to read the Chapters 16-24.  Please be warned there will be spoilers if you have not read the chapters previously.

In Chapter 17, once Adair has escaped the prison in St. Louis and is searching for a way South, Jiles makes a point of demonstrating the nation in transition between farming and industrial and traditional and modern sensibilities.  How does she accomplish this and is it done well?

S:  Adair seems focused on making herself presentable as she searchers for a way further south, seeking out a hat to cover her head and make her a “lady” once again and to find a ticket or basket as a way to give her purpose.  Meanwhile, she is walking or sneaking along the road by free Black men working into the night and by the levee where ships are being loaded and unloaded and factories are puffing smoke.  I liked the contrast between her and her surroundings, especially when thinking back to her more simplistic farm life with the barn and its horses at the beginning of the novel.  It did raise questions for me about whether the hat really would have made the difference with the soldier in terms of deeming her respectable.  Perhaps it merely only hid her true identity.

A: I think the contrast between the old farming South and the new industrial South is emphasized by the fact that we’re seeing it through Adair’s eyes.  She doesn’t seem like she’s ever left the country, so it’s all new to her.  But I think the contrast really takes a backseat to Adair’s search for a hat and other things she will need in order to make her way south.  I honestly didn’t even notice it until you pointed it out to me, but going back to that chapter now, I see what you mean.

These chapters center on two things — Adair’s escape and attempts to return home and Major Neumann’s journey to join his new unit and the battle where he loses part of his hand.  Which storyline do you find more interesting at this point?

A:  It seems like much of the book so far has centered on Adair traveling.  This trek seems more authentic to me than the one before her imprisonment, maybe because Jiles does more to show how difficult it is to travel alone, sick, and with few resources.  However, I found the chapters about Major Neumann and the skirmishes he’s caught in to be more interesting.  I think Jiles’ writing comes alive in those action scenes, whereas it’s more plodding and tempered in the chapters about Adair.

S:  I agree that Adair’s trek back home is more authentic and interesting, perhaps because it shows the journey as it should have been shown the first time in terms of its length and arduous nature.  I was waiting for some battlefield action, and thankfully, Jiles provides some in these chapters, though I would have liked to seen more of it.

What do you make of the woman and the daughter Adair stays with for a time?  Do you think these scenes are necessary?

A:  I think they are only necessary insofar as to reunite Adair and Whiskey and maybe to illustrate the different things people do to survive during the war.  Maybe I’m having problems with the writing or the lack of quotation marks or whatever, but I didn’t know what to make of Lila and Rosalie.  Rosalie seemed flighty, and Lila seemed hospitable to Adair at first and then there was something mean or sinister about her.  I don’t think I got to know them enough to know exactly what they wanted from Adair.  I wonder if they’ll make an appearance later on.

S:  I knew that the scenes with the woman and her daughter would be used as a plot device to reunite Adair with Whiskey.  A stroke of luck or the author’s pen, but you knew it was coming because of her passionate connection to that horse and her need for companionship on the journey home.  Lila seemed like a woman who wanted another accomplice, someone they could make complicit in their stealing and killing of Union soldiers.  If Adair had been a weaker character and more traditional, perhaps she would have fallen in line with the other women and stayed on there.  Rosalie seemed simply eager to have someone to talk to and share things with because as it was her father had left them for another woman, so her mother seemed closed off and bitter, which probably led to Rosalie’s loneliness and seeming need for companionship.  I think she hoped to find a friend in Adair.

Out of curiosity, do you think you would be as merciless as Lila and Rosalie or more cunning like Adair if you needed to steal to survive?

S:  I would like to think that I would be more cunning than Rosalie and Lila.  I’m not naturally the murdering type, but who is.  I can’t say for sure, but I have a tendency to lurk in the backgrounds of social gatherings, so I probably would take advantage of an opportunity when it presented itself, rather than make my own move to steal whatever I want/needed to survive.

A:  I think I’d be more like Adair.  I’d steal what I needed if it didn’t hurt someone else and only out of a need to survive.  I’d look for opportunities, like Adair did when stealing the woman’s luggage.

What is your overall impression of the book at this point?  Are you enjoying it more?  Less?

A:  I’m having mixed feelings about the book now.  I’m still interested in Adair’s story and hope to see more of Major Neumann in the coming chapters, but I had some difficulty getting through this section.  Other than the action in the scenes with Major Neumann, I found it to be slow going.  Now that Adair has found Whiskey and is on the move again, maybe something exciting will happen in the final chapters.

S:  It’s funny that you are having mixed feelings about the book now.  I find that I’m more interested in her journey and what happens to her.  Will she make it home?  Will she and the Major be reunited?  What will she think of him once he returns to her with his battle scars?  Adair still seems naive at this point, at least about love.  I just wonder what will happen when the reality of “love” and all that it entails hits her, if she’s reunited with the Major.

What questions did you have?  What did you think?  Feel free to answer these questions in the comments and even pose your own.  We’d love to discuss the book with you!

Week 2: Enemy Women Read-a-Long

This is week two of the Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles read-a-long.  If you missed last week’s questions, please check out the discussion for Prologue through Chapter 6.

For this week, each of us had to read chapters 7-15.  These chapters follow Adair Colley and her plight in the women’s prison near St. Louis.

How would you compare Adair’s thinking to that of a more traditional southern woman, like Rhoda?

S:  It seems that Adair has a more modern sensibility compared to her counterparts.  She’s not afraid to talk back to men and stand up for herself whereas Rhoda and that traditional stereotype seem content to let the men take care of them and not to fend for themselves.  At one point, I think Rhoda says something to the effect that a southern woman must endure her abusers, whereas Adair is looking for a way out of the situation.

A:  Adair certainly is a feisty one!  She will stand up for herself, no matter who is involved, man or woman.  I wonder if this has anything to do with growing up without a mother and not having to do the usual “woman’s work” around the house.  It’s been mentioned that no one really cleaned or darned socks and stuff like that.  It seems she has had an nontraditional upbringing for the time, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s not a traditional Southern woman (whatever that might mean) and not the type to submit to the will of others.

Describe the relationship between Adair and Major Neumann.  Is it believable? Do you think the war has influenced it and in what way? Has their plight moved you?

S:  At first the relationship between the two seemed to be more about lust and desire, since he wanted to touch her, but as the last chapters in this portion of the reading went along it was clear that Adair was more to him than just an object.  I presume it was the way she opened up to him in her “confessions,” which seemed to be more like letters, that captured his heart.  But I wonder about her motivations.  Is she really in love with him or is the simple “he looks good in a uniform and he can get me free” thing the reason she is so attached?  The war is definitely playing a role in this relationship, and I’m glad that Jiles has Neumann address it aloud in the book.  Their relationship hasn’t moved me yet, but that could change, especially if it endures their eventual separation.

A:  At first I didn’t know what to make of it, and I think the war certainly could play a role in their attraction.  He seems different from the other officers and could be lonely…yet, he doesn’t seem to care as much about any of the other women in the prison.  She could view him as a way to get out of prison…yet she seems genuinely upset when he tells her he is being transferred.  I must admit that I’m a romantic at heart, so by the time I got to the scene where Adair is sick in bed, I totally bought their relationship.  How Major Neumann gets back at Mrs. Buckley was awesome, and giving his ring to Adair was a tender moment.  However, part of me wants to think it wouldn’t be that easy, especially since Adair was so angry about the Union Militia arresting (and likely killing) her father, stealing Whiskey, and attempting to burn down her family home.  Granted, Neumann is not part of the militia, but he’s an officer in the Union Army, but then again, he seemed sympathetic toward her right away and she’d already spent a few weeks being worn down in the prison by the time they met.

What do you make of Adair’s “confessions?”  Do you think she should have followed Major Neumann’s advice and given them anything plausible just to be released?

A:  I really enjoyed reading Adair’s “confessions.”  The first had a fairy tale quality to it, with the inclusion of Snow White and the exclusion of any real hardships she has faced over the years.  She pours her heart out on the page, and it’s touching.  What she wrote about the Knights of the Golden Whiskey Jug was absolutely hilarious.  I respect her for staying strong and not breaking under the weight of sickness and the horrid conditions she has been subjected to.

S:  I really enjoyed the confessions, but I think it would have been easier if she did give them some tidbit of information about the confederates, even if it was outdated information.  I do like the fairy tale quality of the confessions.

What is your overall impression of the book at this point?  Are you enjoying it more?  Less?

A:  I definitely am enjoying the book more now, and the lack of quotation marks isn’t as distracting as it was before.  The introduction of Major Neumann’s character has helped the story progress at a faster pace.  I think I even like Adair more than I did before.  Her conversations with the major are entertaining, with much seriousness on his end and sarcasm and even playfulness on hers.  It’s a good thing she’s been portrayed as a tough cookie from the start because with the escape plan in motion, she’s going to need every bit of strength she has to survive.

S:  My overall impression of the book hasn’t changed much, but I didn’t expect it to.  I have a really hard time with the lack of quotation marks and the prose is not as captivating as I had hoped, but I do like Adair and have grown fond of her in spite of her rashness.  I agree that Major Neumann has helped speed up the pace of the plot, though the romance was a bit unbelievable at first for me.

What questions did you have?  What did you think?  Feel free to answer these questions in the comments and even pose your own.  We’d love to discuss the book with you!

Week 1: Enemy Women Read-a-Long

This is week one of the Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles read-a-long.  Each of us had to read the prologue and chapters 1-6.

Do you think the prologue was necessary? Why or Why not?

S:  I’m not sure that the prologue added anything to my reading of the book thus far, except as a way to provide background to the action.  The textbook-like language did that section an injustice, and I don’t think the author needed that section to demonstrate the confusion and dangerousness of the time.  To be honest, I didn’t find it memorable and barely remember it.

A: I’m going to have to disagree with you.  I know next to nothing about the Civil War, especially all that went on in the Ozarks, so I found that prologue interesting, and it set the stage for the events that followed.  However, I will agree that there was a textbook feel to the writing, but that sort of goes with the excerpts from historical documents and books at the beginning of every chapter.

What are your first impressions of the main character, Adair Colley?

S:  I think she’s a bit naive about how things in war work and she’s very impetuous.  She seems to just jump with her emotions and doesn’t think too much about her actions.  It’s no wonder that she gets arrested and sent to jail by the Union militia.  Part of her problem is that she’s so young and woefully uneducated in some ways, but during that time, what did women need to know about war?

A: I agree that she’s impetuous, but I like that about her.  She seems like a very strong girl, and she’ll need that strength to endure her imprisonment.  I like that she will stand up for herself, but she does have a lot to learn.  I don’t think her naivety is all because she’s a woman, though; she’s only 18, and I remember how I thought I knew everything at that age but actually knew very little about life.

The correspondence at the beginning of each chapter provides background to the fighting.  How do you think that will figure into the overall plot or what is its purpose?

S:  I’ve really enjoyed the correspondence at the beginning of each chapter a little more than the prologue.  It could be the authenticity of the letters with their misspellings or the less than textbook-like language.  It is like the letters and messages give you an insider’s look at both sides of the war, which is a fresh backdrop to the action in the book, especially given that Missouri appears to be caught in the middle of both sides.

A: I think they help to show that Adair’s story could very well have happened.  Using actual correspondence and testimony makes the story more authentic, and then Adair’s story personalizes the whole situation for the reader.

What questions did you have?  What did you think?  Feel free to answer these questions in the comments and even pose your own.  We’d love to discuss the book with you!

Schedule/Sign Up for the August Civil War Read-a-Long: ENEMY WOMEN by Paulette Jiles

For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the War between the States is a plague that threatens devastation, despite the family’s avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee.

The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women’s prison. But young Adair finds that love can live even in a place of horror and despair. Her interrogator, a Union major, falls in love with her and vows to return for her when the fighting is over. Before he leaves for battle, he bestows upon her a precious gift: freedom.

Now an escaped “enemy woman,” Adair must make her harrowing way south buoyed by a promise … seeking a home and a family that may be nothing more than a memory. (publisher’s summary)

We hope you will join us for the August read-a-long of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles as part of the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.  We will read a handful of chapters every week throughout August, and every Friday, we will post discussion questions here.  We welcome you to post your thoughts on your blog and provide a link or just type your thoughts in the comments section of the discussion post; whatever works best for you.  You can answer our questions or just discuss whatever you found most interesting in each section.

Here is the schedule:

Aug. 1-15: Prologue – Chapter 6; discussion on Fri., Aug. 5

Aug. 6-12: Chapters 7-15; discussion on Fri., Aug. 12

Aug. 13-19: Chapters 16-24; discussion on Fri., Aug. 19

Aug. 20-26: Chapters 25-31; discussion/final thoughts on Fri., Aug. 26

**If you are interested in reading along with us, please let us know in the comments.  You don’t have to be participating in the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011 to join us!**

Winners of Enemy Women, August Read-a-Long Book

Hello and congrats to the winners of the August read-a-long giveaway for 2 copies of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles.

Shelley of Book Clutter, who said, “Count me in, it sounds like a great book and I’m looking forward to more reading time in the summer. Thanks for the chance to win!”

Ruth, who said, “Please enter me–it would be great to read this book.”

Congrats to both of you and we look forward to your participation in the read-a-long this August.

Enemy Women Read-A-Long Giveaway

Interested in joining the Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles read-a-long in August, but can’t find the book at the library or can’t afford to buy a copy?

You’re in luck because we’re giving away two copies to people willing to participate in the August read-a-long.

Yes, you have to participate!  Besides, it will count toward your reading goal!

So if you want to join us, please enter in the comments below by June 30.  Yes, even international participants are welcome.

We’ll randomly choose a winner on July 1 and send out the books in time for you to read it.

Review: ENEMY WOMEN by Paulette Jiles

Some participants do not have blogs of their own, but we like to give them an opportunity to express their opinions about the books they read for the reading challenges.

Reva read Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.  Here is her review:

The Civil War in Missouri was particularly horrible because it was a border state. Everyone was suspected of treachery and each citizen had to worry about being raided by Union, Rebel, Union militia and Rebel militia. Southern Missouri mountain suffered most because they were isolated, already below subsistence and vulnerable. Homes were raided over and over again by different factions of the war and just plain criminals.

Innocent women were seized and imprisoned in an effort to obtain confessions and to inflict additional stress on their soldier husbands, brothers and cousins. Prisons were so delapidated that one actually collapsed with chained women inside. All were under 18 years of age.

Union soldiers were undisciplined and allowed to steal and kill at will, suffering no consequences as they left unburied bodies to despoil the land and waters.

This book forces one to ponder what people in foreign lands think of all the American soldiers who occupy their homelands. In this time of austerity, shouldn’t we consider bringing them home, protecting our own borders better and going back to the isolationist policies of pre-WWII America.

**Attention participants: Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

August Read-a-Long of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles

After conducting an informal poll for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge Read-a-Long, we discovered that most of us are interested in conducting the read-a-long in August 2011.

So beginning in August, we’ll be doing a read-a-long of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles!

Remember to pick up a copy at the local bookstore, online, or at the library so you can join in the fun.

We’ll be posting a discussion schedule sometime in June or July.

Thanks to all those who weighed in.

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