Jennifer Chiaverini's newest novel, The Spymistress, is a fascinating historical fiction novel. I loved Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, and was excited to see that Chiaverini was revisiting this time period again, but from the perspective of another Civil War figure. Elizabeth Van Lew is a name that is new to me, but I was engrossed in the story of how she was able to help the Union while living in a Confederate state.
This is a fictional account, beginning with Van Lew's support of Abraham Lincoln prior to the secession of states. When war breaks out, Van Lew sets about to find a way to still support the United States. However, she must be extremely careful, since being discovered could result in her own demise. Visiting Union prisoners of war and administering some nursing to them, providing food to these soldiers who were given very little to eat, and even assisting some soldiers escape to the North were all ways that Van Lew found to help the North's cause. She was shrewd in her dealings with Confederate soldiers who controlled her ability to visit Union soldiers, and tried to befriend them in order for them to see her as an ally.
Van Lew's own family had freed their slaves long before the War began, but they continued to live and work for the Van Lew family who treated them well, and cared for them.
This is a fascinating look at a lesser known figure in the Civil War. Chiaverini has researched her time period and character in great depth, and I found myself getting so into this era, that I'm looking for other Civil War books to read.
Visit Smithsonian's website to learn more about Elizabeth Van Lew.