Kiana Davenport’s latest novel is a powerful epic about the American Civil War, which extends this beloved writer’s vision to an entirely new level. Based on her family history, it is at once an historical novel, a haunting love story, and a brilliant expose on the treatment of minorities during the Civil War. Meticulously researched, it is finally a story of human sacrifice and personal redemption. A magnificent novel that crosses all genres, THE SPY LOVER (Thomas & Mercer; August 28; $14.95) is a work of astonishing beauty that promises to become a classic.
Johnny Tom, a Chinese immigrant, and his beautiful Creek Indian wife, and daughter, Era, live in Shisan, a Chinese settlement along the Mississippi River. Their life is simple and idyllic, until Confederate soldiers invade the town, kidnap the men and force them into service, fighting for the South and slavery. At the first opportunity, many Chinese soldiers defect to the Union Army. In revenge, the Confederates return to Shisan to rape and torture their wives and daughters. Defiled and half-mad, Era sets out to find her father and is plunged into the full savagery and horror of the War. Lured by Union officials to pose as a nurse while spying on the Confederate army, she falls in love with a wounded Confederate cavalryman, and her loyalties become divided between her beloved father in the North, and the gallant soldier who sustains her in the South.
THE SPY LOVER is ostensibly a novel about the abiding love between a man and a woman, between a father and daughter, and the love of a man for his country. Ultimately, it is a meditation on the ethical choice, on honoring one’s moral obligation.
“I never planned to write an historical novel, or a love story, or a spy thriller, or a story about how brave Chinese soldiers were used as throw-aways in the Civil War. I simply set out to tell the story of my ancestors, who fought on opposing sides of that War.”
- Kiana Davenport
Points of Interest:
· U.S. Civil War Research – Kiana’s research for THE SPY LOVER was exhaustive. For five years she studied correspondences and documents and traveled to the battlefields of the Civil War, discovering facts that she hoped would fascinate her readers. She learned about Southern women collecting urine from which to distill niter for making gunpowder. And she learned how women planted and harvested poppies, then scored and gathered from poppy-pods the sap known as opium. She read books on spy-codes used in the War, what spies were paid, and how they were executed when caught by the enemy. She lived and breathed the Civil War, letting it engulf her as she wrote her novel.
· Kiana’s Heritage – Kiana’s ancestor, Warren Rowan Davenport, was a cavalryman who rode for the Confederacy in the Civil War with a famous unit known as the Prattville Dragoons, of Prattville, Alabama. Her research on Warren Davenport entailed reading over forty books on the War, then basing her fictional character, Warren Petticomb, on her Southern ancestor. Johnny Tom is based on another of Kiana’s ancestors, John Tommy Kam, who emigrated from Canton, China, to Hawaii and finally to the East coast of the U.S. While Kiana had access to tattered correspondences and documents from Warren Davenport, she had little but word-of-mouth stories from her Chinese uncle about his ancestor, John Tommy Kam. Eventually, she uncovered articles about Chinese soldiers who had fought valiantly in the Civil War, including two articles about John Tommy Kam. Finally, she discovered his war records, and the grounds at Gettysburg where he is buried with his comrades, the Excelsior Brigade of New York State.
· Multicultural Themes - THE SPY LOVER is the story of Chinese soldiers who fought valiantly for a country that, afterwards, refused them American citizenship. It also unveils the gross mistreatment of Native Americans, African Americans, “mix-bloods” and other minorities who served honorably in the American Civil War. Importantly, it is also the tragic story of Native American women - mothers and daughters - kidnapped and raped by slave-owners who used them as breeders of a more “superior” kind of slave.
About the author, Kiana Davenport:
Kiana Davenport is descended from a full-blooded Native Hawaiian mother, and a Caucasian father from Talladega, Alabama. Her father, Braxton Bragg Davenport, was a sailor in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Pearl Harbor, when he fell in love with her mother, Emma Kealoha Awaawa Kanoho Houghtailing. On her mother's side, Kiana traces her ancestry back to the first Polynesian settlers to the Hawaiian Islands who arrived almost two thousand years ago from Tahiti and the Tuamotu's. On her father's side, she traces her ancestry to John Davenport, the puritan clergyman who co-founded the American colony of New Haven, Connecticut in 1638.
Kiana is the author of the internationally best-selling novels, Shark Dialogues, Song Of The Exile, and House Of Many Gods. She is also the author of the collections, House Of Skin Prize-Winning Stories, and Cannibal Nights, Pacific Stories Volume II. Both have been Kindle bestsellers. She has just published her third collection, Opium Dreams, Pacific Stories, Volume III.
A graduate of the University of Hawaii, Kiana has been a Bunting Fellow at Harvard University, a Visiting Writer at Wesleyan University, and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Her short stories have won numerous O. Henry Awards, Pushcart Prizes, and the Best American Short Story Award, 2000. Her novels and short stories have been translated into twenty-one languages. She lives in New York City and Hawaii.
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"The Spy Lover" is a Civil War novel that centers around 3 interesting characters....Johnny Tom, an immigrant from China, Era is daughter and Warren the Confederate cavalryman she falls in love with. Kiana Davenport goes straight to the punch in her graphic desciptions of what is going on throughout the novel. I was impressed in finding out that the plot was written with both historical facts and the author's own family history. A total must read for all Civil War fans!
I give "The Spy Lover" a 5 star rating.