I enjoyed this book. The two main characters, Louisa May Alcott and her friend are complex, flawed, and deeply human.
Their lifelong friendship endures both the personal growth in character of both people and betrayal, but ultimately prevails. (When she was a child and young adult, the friend accepted the leadership of the more adventuresome Louisa and generally submitted to her sometimes gentle bullying. However, the woman gradually grows into her own person, and Loisa must accept her friend now has her own mind and choices. Louisa herself has always accepted the fact that she must be the primary breadwinner for her family since her father is more of a dreamer than a worker. She tries to make her money through her writing, and ultimately becomes a famous writer. However, she suffers from depression, ill health, and a good deal of stubborness. While on one hand, she is generous, on the other hand, she does not seem to take in opinions of others well. As for betrayal, well, both friends were in love with the same man.)
The story is interesting. Both young women become war nurses for the Union during the Civil War. They endure the soldiers suffering, the sometimes abuse of the some of the same soldiers, the doctors, and the head nurse who, as it turns out, is a thief and is will to bring false testimony after the war against a spy for the Union who had been an injured soldier in the hospital where she was a nurse.
The two friends also work closely with Clara Barton, the historical war nurse, who, after the war, headed the search for missing Union soldiers and helped spearhead the movement to identify the soldiers who had been imprisoned Andersonville, a notoriously abusive Confederate POW camp, and to make a memorial to those who died at Andersonville.
While they were nurses, both friends fell in love a soldier who later turned out to be a spy for the Union. While the friend encouraged Louisa to become close and befriend the soldier, she discovers that she had deep feelings for him as well.
After the war, the soldier, who had been listed as missing soon after he excaped the hospital where he had been imprisoned on a false charge of stealing from other injured soldiers, he showed up in Clara Barton's office with a list of Andersonville prisoners. He himself had been an inmate there, and was broken in health and spirit.
While he helps Clara Barton to compile the lists of the missing soldiers and construct a memorial to the Andersonville dead, he again meets Louisa's friend. But, he is still in love with Louisa. So, the friend, who is nothing but loyal to Louisa, writes to her friend telling her that the man is alive, is sick, and needs her. Louisa declines. When Louisa changes her mind a few weeks later, it is too late. Now the soldier and the friend are in love and the friend is pregnant with his child.
But, the soldier has stolen the list of the Andersonville inmates and its dead from an ambicious Union officer. He is arrested and convicted, largely because the U.S. government was afraid that his role of a spy would be revealed. (I have a problem with this part of the plot. It doesn't make sense. Who was going tell that he had been a spy anyway?) Unable to endure prison again, and this time by his own government, he hangs himself. And Louisa's friend looses her baby.
The fact that Louisa and her friend loved the same man causes a rift between them that last for years. Finally, they learn to forgive each other and to begin a new friendship.
As I said, the story and the characters were good. The author included many emotionally heart-wrenching hospital, and personalize the suffering of the soldiers and the nurses well.
Unfortunately, the book was not without its flaws. For one thing, story was written in a sort of memoire style which is usually not my favorite narrative style for me to read. Because the book followed the lives of Louisa and her friend from the time they were young children until after Louisa's death and the friend's marriage to another soldier who loved her, the book was bogged down with a lot of information that had nothing at all to do with the plot. It dragged badly in both the start and the finish.
Another problem I had was the characterization of the soldiers, (except for the "love interest") at least the wounded ones. Really?! Every Single One of them was rude, crude, and just plain nasty?!
I am sure that some were that way, no doubt. But, a problem comes when you dump a bunch of characteristics on a whole group of people. Yes, there is such a thing as a group mind set in certain situations. But, soldiers (or members of ANY group of people) were individuals human beings with different upbringings, personalities, and different ways of reacting good, bad, and everything in between. I have had the same problem when soldiers in other books I have read were characterized as all mannerly. Or, hey! All the soldiers on one side of a conflict are good and the ones on the other side of the conflict are all evil. If the author was going for hard-hitting realism, I can understand, but not to the point of dehumanizing and steriotyping.
To me, also, the story left a few unanswered questions, the chief being what I have already mentioned. Who was going to expose the soldier as a spy? Did it really matter so much that an (more-or-less) innocent man was allowed to be convicted?
Nevertheless, I believe that the strengths of the book outweighed the flaws. Overall, it is a intriguing historical nove. I would recommend reading it.