Touched With Fireby Christopher Datta
Awarded top Historical Fiction Gold Medal Award for 2016 by eLitAwards
Ellen Craft is property; in this case, of her half-sister Debra, to whom she was given as a wedding gift. The illegitimate daughter of a Georgia plantation owner and a house slave,
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Touched With Fire, a novel of the Civil War inspired by the true story of Ellen Craft.
Awarded top Historical Fiction Gold Medal Award for 2016 by eLitAwards
Ellen Craft is property; in this case, of her half-sister Debra, to whom she was given as a wedding gift. The illegitimate daughter of a Georgia plantation owner and a house slave, she learned to hate her own image, which so closely resembled that of her "father:" the same wiry build, the same blue eyes, and the same pale--indeed, lily-white--skin.
Ellen lives a solitary life until she falls, unexpectedly, in love with a dark-skinned slave named William Craft, and together they devise a plan to run North. Ellie will pose as a gentleman planter bound for Philadelphia accompanied by his "boy" Will. They make it as far as Baltimore when Will is turned back, and Ellie has no choice but continue. With no way of knowing if he is dead or alive, she resolves to make a second journey--South again. And so Elijah Craft enlists with the 125th Ohio Volunteers of the Union Army: she will literally fight her way back to her husband.
Eli/Ellie's journey is the story of an extraordinary individual and an abiding love, but also of the corrosive effects of slavery, and of a nation at a watershed moment.
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- Christopher Datta
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Meet the Author
“Christopher Datta’s Touched with Fire is in that fine American tradition of the works of Howard Fast and John Jakes. His characters are richly drawn and he has great command of the history to which he has attached his narrative. Also, as Datta’s deliberate and sincere historical fiction wends its way through this abject time in our nation’s youth, he keenly goes about Forest Gumping the reader through a Who’s Who of the Civil War. Touched with Fire is a welcome addition to the ever-increasing canon of Civil War fiction.”
-E. Warren Perry, Jr., author, Swift to My Wounded: Walt Whitman and the Civil War
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It isn’t often that I know, going into writing a review, that I will not be able to convince enough people that this is a must-read: for the writing, the history and the captivating characters that will be found within. Christopher Datta has used extensive research and historical facts to present a story that seamlessly mixes fact and fiction to reveal a life that should be a household name, but was sadly lost in obscurity. Ellen Craft was born a slave, the product of a rape of her mother by the master, as was her mother. Vernacular of the time most pleasantly referred to her as a quadroon, her light skin combined with the dubious benefit of position as slave to her half-sister kept her alienated from the others in the slave community, her skin and her speech had them suspicious of her ‘uppity ways’. All of that changes when William, slave to a man of substance and a well-known and regarded cabinet maker sets his sights on her. Saving her from certain attack, twice, she opens up to William and shares her fears, hatreds and desires. When they marry and are allowed to quarter in her half-sister’s new home with her husband, their plan is hatched. Donning the dress and manners of a man, Ellen presents herself as a southern gentlemen farmer with her dedicated slave Billy. Through several nerve-wracking encounters, they travel without discovery to Baltimore, where the lack of papers and Ellen and Willam’s inability to write or read forces a separation. With the aid of a cousin of her former master, Ellen is able to journey on to the free state of Pennsylvania and starts her new life as she plans to retrieve her husband. The story is cleverly working on two levels: first is the determination that Ellen shows in returning to the Macon Georgia plantation to retrieve her husband. For six years she has masqueraded as a man, always seeking to protect her secrets and focused only on the defeat of the rebel army. Secondly are the details of battle from a first-person view: the sights, sounds, smells and exhilaration juxtaposed against the tedium of waiting or the dangers faced in the camp hospitals, hunger and the sniping between friends and companions. Told in a series of ‘five sections, each carries a specific tone and setting that build the characters and scenes with smooth progression and allow them to grow and develop as each new challenge appears. The sections also give a sort of timeline progression to the story, giving readers a moment to breathe and relax from the tension that underlies most of the text. This is a gripping read, with several chances to immerse yourself in Ellen’s emotional journey and struggles with her own definition of herself: is she woman, has she adopted too many of the man’s characteristics, will she be found out, can she ever learn to trust in anyone, will she and William ever find one another. It was difficult to distinguish between fiction and fact, and some clever twisting of the timeline and events gave Datta the perfect opportunity to immerse readers into a story from a perspective that is new and fresh. There is a particular dryness to historical fact and history classes, yet the transformation of adding a perspective and character that is intriguing and interesting and giving them the task of telling the story makes it all come alive in ways that only seem possible in fiction. You cared for and hurt with Ellen in her journey, and often were confused by her behavior and selfish disregard for those who only sought to befriend her as a comrade in arms. What you will never be is bored or confused: angry, frustrated, sad and even wanting to see if her wishes come true, Ellen Craft will demand you see her, hear her and feel for and with her on this journey. I received an eBook copy via Novel Publicity for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility
I found Touched With Fire an interesting read. I don't read much historical fiction and was a little disappointed when I found out that the second half of the book was entirely fictional, although it was still based on real life events that happened to other people (just not the Crafts). The book was on a whole a breeze to read through. I suppose, being far removed from the Civil War or anything American (other than what I read), I wouldn't be the best person to give comments about authenticity or stuff like that, but I'd just say that I felt it was quite a realistic read. I liked the voices that Datta gave to both Ellie and William Craft, and the way he contrasted them against the Collins and the White society as a whole. In most books we only see one side of the story, and the way Datta shows both in Touched With Fire serves to play up the conflict between the two. It is this contrast in the way that the Collins think of Ellie and the way she sees herself that makes you stop and think about the way we think about people of other races even now. It's sad to know that we still tend to have that same kind of reaction to people of other races, as if just because they have a different skin colour than ours, they are somehow "less" in some way, especially if they are not as successful as a society.
Well written and could not put it down. A real cliffhanger. Had me guessing to the end.
Well written, captivating and capture's the women's point of view during that period of time before and during the Civil War. I love history/historical nonfiction books and this story lives up to that grouping. There were parts of the story that just make you cringe when you think of how the slaves and the women(daughters, wives) were treated. Wonderful story.
From the minute I started this book right up until the end of the book. I haven't read a book like this before in the aspect that it is from the slaves point of view and it was an amazing change in perspective for me. I also can't wait to check out more books by him. I loved how Ellen was white but because of her mother she was treated as a slave. The one part this sticks out to me was when there was a woman visiting from the north and she didn't understand why Ellen was treated as she was even though she was white. For me that sticks out because it breaks my heart to know what other people will do to people because of their skin color. Anyway this is a great historical fiction part and I would recommend it to anyone. FTC:I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.