It is rare when all the stories of an anthology please, but Hamilton's Battalion is one such collection. It's an inspiring book for our time and one of the most heartwarming and hopeful books I've read this year. These novellas are set during the Revolutionary War in the year 1781 when Colonel Alexander Hamilton led the siege against Yorktown and won a key victory in the fight for American independence. Years later, around 1820, Mrs. Eliza Hamilton is collecting the reminiscences of the people who served under her husband in order to put together his biography. These twin threads run through all three tales.
Promised Land by Rose Lerner
Grade: A Sensuality: Subtle
Rachel Mendelson abandons her husband Nathan in order to join the Revolutionary War disguised as Ezra Jacobs, a common Patriot solider under Hamilton's command. She makes every effort to erase her Jewish roots by exhibiting utter disregard to food, holidays, cultural mores and rules in her bid to be more American. Her goal is to survive the war, then reveal she's a woman, perhaps write a book, and go on a lecture tour around the country to talk about her experiences. She desperately wants the freedom to be recognized in her own right as a person of stature.
Their marriage was fraught with many disagreements. Nathan was staunchly religious, while Rachel chafed at all the rules the religion imposed on her womanhood. Rachel was a revolutionary and though Nathan, a British Loyalist, loved her and tried his best to please her, Rachel saw him as weak and cowardly. While he is away fighting, Rachel has her mother-in-law, who hates her, send news to him that she has died of a fever; and she ran away to join the army, with no thought as to how much he might mourn her, reveling in finally being able to live life on her own terms. And those terms mean evaluating what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be American.
Rachel and Nathan meet again on the battlefield of Yorktown, Virginia, where she has him arrested as a Loyalist spy. It's only later she finds out that he's a double agent siding with the Americans. He has changed in many ways and is finally willing to listen to Rachel, to see the world from her point of view, rather than glossing over unpalatable truths with a perennially positive attitude. With infinite patience he teaches her to love, while holding his own love for her steadfast. She in turn teaches him the importance of personal space and allowing his life partner the liberty to stretch and grow beyond the confines of a Jewish identity or gender restrictions. She also teaches him how as Jews, they can participate in building a nation that is welcoming of them.
Rachel is not a likeable person through some of the story. But despite this, I completely understood her and her struggles and wanted her to find happiness. It takes great skill for an author to take an unkind, selfish character and draw the reader into her journey to empathy and togetherness. This story is powerful and not to be missed.
The Pursuit Of… by Courtney Milan
Grade: A Sensuality: Warm
I cried as I read this novella - it was achingly lovely. Told in a sure voice, this tale is interwoven with a delicacy that wrung my heart.
Set during the siege of Yorktown, the story opens with John Hunter and Henry Latham desperately trying to bludgeon each other to death. One fights for the American cause so that his sister's husband can be freed from slavery; the other fights for the British because his father believes him worthless, frivolous and redeemable only by martyrdom. John is a poor, taciturn man who kills men not because of ideals but because he is a soldier – it’s his job. Henry is a wealthy, loquacious man, who cannot be quiet even while battling for his life. And in that constant barrage of words, John and Henry see each other as human, as individuals.
John spares Henry's life and he, in turn, promises to pay him back for that gift. John shrugs it off as a white man assuaging his guilt with empty words. Lo and behold, a few days later, Henry shows up at the black soldiers' campsite to break bread with them and walk hundreds of miles by John's side from Yorktown to Newport, Rhode Island. In so doing, Henry starts his fight against his own prejudice and privilege, while John battles to believe in his right to equality.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of …
For John, it is the pursuit of home and family. For Henry, it is the pursuit of a life worth living.
As the two men journey on, they become increasingly fascinated with each other. Just like they learn to appreciate the stinky cheese Henry is lugging along in his pack, they learn to first tolerate and then relish their differences and their individualities that make them unique. Their love is sustained by the words of the Declaration of Independence and how necessary they are to each other. And their belief in themselves grows proportionately to their love for each other as John learns to believe himself equal to every other American and Henry believes that he has value and inherent worth.
That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole
Grade: A Sensuality: Subtle
"If you have a chance to mend your heart, or someone else's, do not wait. If you have a chance to forgive, or be forgiven, do not wait."
At the heart of this story are two women who share an instant mutual attraction and are learning to overcome their pasts, biases, and experiences to risk trusting and being vulnerable again. Their path to love isn't a smooth curve, but is rather in bursts and dips, where every new step is fraught with self-doubt.
Mercy Halston has been working for Eliza Hamilton as a maid and secretary, carefully transcribing the voluminous accounts of battlefield experiences by various soldiers under Colonel Hamilton's command. She was there when Rachel and Nathan sent in their letters and when John and Henry stopped by and John tacitly acknowledged her as a fellow free black person. But in seeking peace and a quiet life, has Mercy stayed buried in the Hamilton home suppressing all her dreams and desires?
Andromeda Stiel, also black, has made different choices. A successful businesswoman who owns a dress boutique and who is looking into starting a boarding house, she charges into life and courageously demands entrée. She meets Mercy when she stops by to tell Eliza about her grandfather's connection with Hamilton.
These two women are so good for each other. Mercy teaches Andromeda temperance and gentleness, while Andromeda teaches Mercy to bravely reach for happiness with both hands. Andromeda sees great potential in Mercy and has faith she will be able to rise up beyond her barriers of hurt and shame. And Mercy believes Andromeda can be anything she wants to be, do anything she wants to do. This is love - believing that the other is wonderful. It’s such a tender story.
Hamilton's Battalion is a collection of stories about ordinary Americans who flourish despite the odds to lead successful, fulfilling lives. Marginalized people have existed in all communities throughout our history, and this anthology is a celebration of their lives. This is a book that reminds all of us who need to believe in the ideals of the Declaration of Independence that we, the people, are there for those who are still striving to achieve the American Dream.
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