Touched with Fire by Christopher Datta

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Touched With Fire is a novel of the Civil War inspired by the true story of Ellen Craft.

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 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.

Debut author CHRISTOPHER DATTA is no stranger to civil conflict or the still-extant scourge of slavery. Most recently the acting ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan where he helped end a war in April of 2012, he has spent a distinguished career moving from one strife-torn country to another, including Lebanon, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. A lifelong student of the American Civil War, his research for Touched with Fire is exacting and based in part on a true story.

Publisher and Release Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 21 June 2013
RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1800s Georgia
Genre:
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by: Sabrina

Ellen (Ellie) Craft is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy plantation owner and a house servant. Ellie serves in her father’s household but is not acknowledged as a daughter or sister. Unfortunately for Ellie, she is also not accepted by the other slaves in the community as they think she looks down on them. Ellie is distant, but not for the reasons people think.

I immediately felt for Ellie. She was a resolved, hardened woman, but completely and utterly alone. Tormented from every angle, she actually hoped to die to avoid living the life she had. When Will enters her life, I was jumping for joy. I loved him from the first moment. A voice of reason; he exuded the quiet strength and devotion Ellie was lacking. She needed him in her life and I’m glad she finally realized this.

But this book is not about their interactions as a couple. In fact for the majority of the book they are apart. Wanting to live a free life, Will and Ellie decide to flee North. Being three-quarters European, Ellie is fair-skinned and easily poses as a white-male plantation owner. It is quite ingenious the way they accomplish this and I can only imagine how terrifying it was for Ellie to assume the role of a dominant male. Some of the conversations she/he had to endure were brutal and I was completely on edge the whole time.

So close to freedom, they encounter trouble and are split apart. This parting was heart-wrenching and their loss felt overwhelming. Ellie, though, is a determined woman. Posing once again as a man, she enlists in the Union Army with all intentions of destroying the rebels and getting her husband back. With this goal in mind, this is where Ellie, now Eli, comes alive. He, as she now refers to herself, is an armed and trained angry soldier. Because he is not afraid to die he is fearless on the battlefield and that, I believe, is one of the biggest reasons he survives. During Eli’s time in the army we are introduced to some pretty fantastic secondary characters who help him live through this madness. With the help of one friend in particular Eli is able to understand people better and let go of his hatred, which saves his soul. The moments between the two friends are heartfelt and insightful.

For me, books on the Civil War are always hard to get through. I find my emotions rolling most of the time and it’s hard to escape the overwhelming saddness of it all. This book provided a fantastic story that engaged in its actions scenes and tempered with its easy dialog. I really enjoyed reading Touched by Fire.

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