I Shall Be Near To You
by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Read: November 28 - December 7, 2014
Published: January 28, 2014 by Crown
Source: Paperback purchase
Tags: Historical Fiction, Civil War, Women Soldiers, Romance
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband in the Civil War, inspired by a real female soldier's letters home
Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.
Rosetta drills with the men, prepares herself for battle, and faces the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Fearing discovery of her secret, Rosetta’s strong will clashes with Jeremiah’s as their marriage is tested by war. Inspired by over two hundred and fifty documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.
Like every other American who has gone to school, I have studied the Civil War in detail. I don't remember everything I learned, but know the names of key players, battles and a lot about the President who resided over it all. But one reason that I love history so much and crave fiction books set in the past, is my desire to know what was it really like to live back then. I want to be able to experience it a little bit, if only through words. This is why I Shall Be Near To You was perfect for me. Facts are important but I have to feel a personal connection to the events to really understand them. Author Erin Lindsay McCabe gave me that through the eyes of her heroine Rosetta.
The Civil War killed almost as many people in its five years than if you add up the American casualties from every other war in our history. It was a devastating event, but what was it like to live through it? Not for the politicians or generals, but for the soldiers in the fields and the families left behind. Through Rosetta's eyes, I could imagine what it was like to go from being a farmer tending fields to a soldier with a gun. What it was like see wounded for the first time and realize this war isn't going to be as easy to win as everyone thought. With Rosetta, I experienced the terror of marching across an open field, firing a gun at the people in grey before one of them hits you. I could understand what it might be like to go into battle after sitting in the rain all night, and how quick and without fanfare death in war can be - or how slow and painful. All of these things Rosetta experiences or observes.
I Shall Be Near To You is told in the perspective of Rosetta, an 18 year old farmer's daughter from New York state who has just married her childhood sweetheart, Jeremiah Wakefield. With dreams of one day owning their own farm in Nebraska, Jeremiah enlists to make some money, but also because his friends are all joining the army. No one has any clue how long or brutal this war will be.
Rosetta has always enjoyed being out on the farm with her father, instead of inside doing women's work. When her husband has to leave with his troop a few weeks after they're married, she makes the decision to cut her hair and dress like a man to follow him into battle. It is an unusual situation, but not a unique one, as the Rosetta in this book is inspired by a real person. In fact, McCabe tells us in her author's note that many women dressed as men to fight on both sides of the war.
What I Love
I loved being inside of Rosetta's head. She is my hero. I'm not sure I could ever make the choices she does, but I admire her for not being afraid to go after what she wants, and because she keeps fighting no matter what. She loves her husband fiercely, wants desperately to be a good wife to him, and is going to do that in the best way she is able. For Rosetta, that means living the war with Jeremiah. Seeing and experiencing things with him that change and scar both of them. It is a decision that bears both tremendous blessing and burden.
Rosetta's ultimate goal is her husband and their farm. Although she acknowledges the larger importance of the war, her reasons for being there are far more personal to her own life. Unlike some of the men in her unit, she'd be very happy never to see any action at all. Maybe it's because she is a woman, or maybe because we're actually inside of her head, but Rosetta made me think differently about the reasons people choose to fight. I appreciated her honesty and her inner strength of will, but also her ability to acknowledge when she's had enough.
This book is a deep love story that happens to be set in a horrific time. Two of my favorite things about this story are Rosetta and Jeremiah's love for each other, and the way they have to fit their relationship into a very difficult setting. Despite her unconventional decision to become a soldier, Rosetta wants very much to be a good wife to her husband, and she finds little ways to do that throughout the book. Even though this book is told entirely from Rosetta's perspective, I could understand Jeremiah's struggle over having his wife with him in a company of all male soldiers. He wants to love her as a husband, while having to to pretend that she's just his male cousin. Jeremiah's strong desire to protect his wife is also realistic. He has to figure out how to do that - and how to let go - when his wife is right next to him in battle, putting herself in equal danger.
Although she is just one voice, Rosetta connected me personally to life in America in the 1860s. Through her I understood a little bit about what this war was like for those who fought and for anyone who remained behind waiting (sometimes in vain) for word from their loved ones. The Civil War is a tough time to relive, and watching Rosetta and Jeremiah figure out how to be together through it was beautiful and painful. I could understand both of their strong emotions, and sense their love for each other. I don't think I could have done what she did, but I'm also glad she didn't do it any other way.
I Shall Be Near To You is one of my favorite reads of 2014. It's one you don't want to miss.
Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone