Just finished reading The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini after we got home from Pierre tonight. It was a fascinating read. I’ve read one other book by Jennifer Chiaverini – Enchantress of Numbers (another conquest from my Indiana trip – I seem to only get books read when I’m riding in the car lately… sigh…) and I loved it. So when I got home from Indiana I picked up two more of her books from the library: this one, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, which was her first big hit. I chose to read The Spymistress first because I love all things having to do with spies.
This book details the Civil War actions of Miss Elizabeth Van Lew, of Richmond, Virginia. A staunch Unionist and proud Virginian, she is heartbroken when Virginia votes to secede from the Union, but then she realizes the opportunity she is given when Richmond becomes the capital of the new Confederate government. She works tirelessly to promote the welfare of captured Union soldiers and pass information to the Union in an effort to bring a speedy end to the war, but it’s a tricky balancing act – she has to appear loyal or risk being caught and charged as a spy and traitor.
Wow. Meticulously researched with seemingly minimal fabrications woven into the plot, The Spymistress had me on the edge of my seat for most of the read – or would have if I had not been restrained by a seat belt. Lizzie’s courage and intelligence in performing dangerous undertakings was inspiring. It made me wonder what I would have done, had I lived in 1860’s Richmond. Or in 21st century America when we are so divided, not by war or even governmental differences, but by culture. We don’t really need spies today, we need understanding. Even while totally committed to the Northern cause, Lizzie had sympathy for the Confederate generals and other military leaders she worked with – she would do almost anything to further her efforts and found that a little effort to understand and find common ground with her enemy resulted in her own endeavors succeeding.
She was also an inspiration as a single woman. I know, I’m not single anymore, but I was for a long time and I know had I read this a year ago (year and a half ago, really) it would have been a massive encouragement to me to keep busy, find meaningful work, and not let the lack of a man in my life hold me back from living my dreams. Lizzie never married, but her life was so rich and full and meaningful. Even now, as I’m preparing to be married, she’s still an inspiration to me to persist in doing right and keeping busy (because I need help in that area…not). I very much doubt there will ever be books written about me, but on the off chance there are, I would be very honored if this sort of book were written about me – about a woman of courage, conviction, loyalty, compassion, and intelligence.
None. Brief descriptions of the sufferings of war, starvation, prisoner of war camps, and one imagining of a battlefield. Nothing graphic enough to give me nightmares – and it doesn’t take much to do that. If I were homeschooling teenagers and wanted them to learn about this aspect of the Civil War, I’d give them this book.
Full disclosure: clicking the picture above will take you to the Amazon page for the book where you can read more reviews and purchase the book if you’d like. I receive a percentage of the sale, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to pay more for the book than you normally would. It just helps me out. Thanks!