Book Review: I Shall Be Near To You
By Erin Lindsay McCabe
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. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
I did not know that women served incognito as soldiers during the Civil War! I found this to be a fascinating novel and time period to learn about.
Rosetta, disguised as Private Ross Stone, comes to face the personal side of the war where women were not expected to be. I liked her strong will and loyalty to her husband, and complete disregard for convention. The other characters are distinct. Hirim is a disgusting womanizer, Scully is the hometown boy who loses his way, there is the loyal husband, the father and son fighting together. Jeremiah is loyal, pragmatic and wants the best for his wife.
I did a little research to see if this book was authentic. It is based on real women who fought on both sides of the war. There were incidents where women even served as officers, and their gender wasn’t known until they gave birth to a child during the war. The population of prostitutes also expanded greatly, probably from women whose husbands were fighting in the war and they were desperate for money to survive. Though probably authentic I found Hirim’s language distracting from the novel. I would have preferred to have him cuss in a more historical sounding way. His language was so graphic is pulled me off track. I also felt like Will was thrown in as a moral parallel for prejudice for our modern times rather than an historical character. There was so much shame surrounding homosexuality I would find it surprising if Rosetta had known one gay man, let alone the three that she identifies knowing. I did like how Will was very considerate of Rosetta and offered to marry her to give her an alternative.
The pain, fear and suffering of the war were captured and poignant. I believe McCabe showed the horrors of this war and the terrible price that was paid to reunite our country. It would be a shame for us to be divided again! The marriage of Jeremiah and Rosetta shows sacrifice, inter-dependence and a deep love. Ultimately, I Shall Be Near To You is a love story.