Siege’s #CBR5 #7: They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook

As you all know, I’m an avid Civil War buff, and am always on the lookout for a new and interesting slant on things. They Fought Like Demons focuses on women who disguised themselves as males to join in on both sides of the conflict. Though primary sources and also reported anecdotal evidence, the authors demonstrate the methods and motivations of women in the Civil War trenches.

This definitely reads more like an academic paper than a book, but that’s okay. The authors managed to cram in an amazing amount of facts and research into a fairly small amount of space. A lot of it was fascinating, though there were sometimes SO MANY facts that it got a little hard to follow or in a few spots a bit repetitive. 

The only thing I found a little questionable was the authors’ adamant denial that any of these women (even the ones who lived as men both before and after the war) were lesbians. While I see their point, which is that women had so few options at the time that some might choose to continue to live as men because they preferred a more independent lifestyle, I think it’s a bit silly to think that none of them would be what today would be referred to as “transgendered”. In all, it’s an excellent piece of research on an overlooked area of history.

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ElCicco #CBR5 Review #34: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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I make the mistake sometimes of thinking that a novel of fewer than 300 pages will be a quick read. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson proves the lie. It is a very dense 280 page novel written as a letter by a 75-year-old midwestern preacher to his 7-year-old son circa 1955. It’s heavy on religion and theology, and it’s sometimes repetitive, which is perhaps not too surprising with a septuagenarian narrator. Robinson makes her preacher John Ames a kindly, gentle, flawed, but likable fellow whose family history spans the Civil War, the influenza epidemic, the Depression, and the two world wars. But those earth-shaking events seem to make less of an impression on him and his flock than the vagaries of their common, every day lives and relationships in the small prairie town of Gilead.

John Ames is writing this letter to his little boy in preparation for his own death. It’s sort of an explanation of his life and an apology for not leaving more for the boy and his young mother. It’s also John Ames’ attempt to come to terms with his impending death and making sure that his spiritual house is in order. In the course of the rambling letter, he discusses his grandfather, a preacher and abolitionist who helped settle Kansas and fought in the Civil War; his father, a preacher who embraced pacifism; his brother, who rejected religion for rationalism; his friend preacher Boughton, who is also old and dying; and Boughton’s wayward son, John Ames Boughton, godson of John Ames. John Ames struggles with anger (as his father and grandfather before him) and his distrust of his godson, recently returned to Gilead for reasons no one seems to understand.

Naturally, as this is a rambling letter, we do not get a linear story line, and there are certain mysteries about John Ames’ father, grandfather and godson that take some time to clear up. While the novel can sometimes be ponderous and drag, there is at its heart a pure and forgiving love that better exemplifies John Ames’ Christian theology than any of the texts he is fond of quoting. Gilead won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, and while I liked the story, I can’t say I loved it. I found it okay, but it’s probably outstanding to those who enjoy theology and have a lot more time to reflect on it than I do.