Claire 's Reviews > Touched with Fire

Touched with Fire by Christopher Datta
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I received this book as a goodreads First Reads giveaway.

Based on a true character, Touched with Fire is the story of Ellen Craft, a woman born in Macon, Georgia to a slave mother and her owner. Despite her white appearance and the fact that everyone knew her parentage, she was nevertheless raised in the family household as a slave, waiting on her half-sisters, and eventually given to one of them as a wedding present. Determined never to marry or have children that would also be slaves, she developed a deep-seated hatred for all white people, and particularly her "family."

She eventually fell in love with William Craft, another slave in the area who rescued her from attempted sexual assault on more than one occasion. They married, and together devised an ingenious plan to escape to the North and freedom. Ellie would disguise herself as a man, and they would travel together under the guise of master and slave. To this point, the story is historically accurate.

Author Christopher Datta has chosen to write the ending of their flight to freedom quite differently from the factual events. In his notes at the end of the book, he explains his reason for doing so: he wanted to address the very real existence of women who disguised themselves as men and fought in the Civil War. A strong woman like Ellen Craft is the perfect vehicle for this. Her strength and determination, both in real life and in Datta's fictional story line, are amazing.

In the fictional version, Ellie goes on to the North, while William is detained in Baltimore because they can not produce proof of "Eli's" ownership. He is eventually returned to Georgia, and is bought by Ellie's half-sister. Ellie continues to pose as a man, and ultimately joins a company of Ohio volunteers for the Union Army, believing this to be her best chance of getting back to William and helping him to freedom.

While I do understand the author's reasons for altering this remarkable woman's story, and having her represent those other committed women who fought as men, I truly believe that the Crafts' true story is even more compelling, since they faced dangers and hardships even after reaching the North. Ellen Craft does not need to be enlarged; she is already a giant figure.

On the plus side, the book flows very well, and the story is exciting. It was always difficult to put it down. The characters that Datta has drawn feel true-to-life, and the dialogue among the soldiers is realistic. My only criticism of the writing is the repetitive mention of Ellie's hatred of all Southern whites. We understand her feelings very well; Datta has done an excellent job of explaining her motivations early in the book, and it seemed unnecessary to repeat her thought process in just about every chapter for almost two-thirds of the book.

I was honestly undecided between three and four stars for this book. It is a very enjoyable read, but I chose to give it three stars because of my feelings about the real Ellen Craft's story, and also because of what I felt was rather stiff, unrealistic dialogue between Ellie and William after they were reunited. But, overall, I would recommend this book for fans of historical fiction and those who are interested in reading about strong female characters.
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Reading Progress

April 28, 2014 – Shelved
April 28, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
May 17, 2014 – Started Reading
May 18, 2014 –
page 138
May 21, 2014 – Finished Reading

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