by Diane Chamberlain
Published by: St. Martin
Genres: Historical Fiction
From perennial bestseller Diane Chamberlain, a compelling new novel
In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.
The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.
When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behavior and save her own life?
“One man stole her heart: the other stole her life.“
Diane Chamberlain magically transports me to her settings and introduces vibrant and complex characters. Such was the case with THE STOLEN MARRIAGE. It’s 1944 when folks are dealing with food rations, racial discrimination, and polio outbreaks. Chamberlain touches on all three as our protagonist Tess DeMello makes an error that lands her in Hickory, North Carolina. Poignant, inspiring and fascinating I devoured THE STOLEN MARRIAGE.
Tess, a young nursing student, lives in an Italian community in Baltimore, Maryland and is engaged to a young Doctor. He travels to Chicago to fight a polio outbreak and keeps extending his time there. Depressed and unsure she begrudgingly goes to Washington DC for the weekend with her best friend. Events that occur there have her breaking off her engagement and marrying Henry Kraft, a furniture maker in rural Hickory, North Carolina. She has married into wealth, and Henry is more than generous, but the people of Hickory are far less accepting. Her marriage isn’t a happy one. Henry isn’t intimate with her, works odd hours and hides money from her. The townsfolk make it clear she is an outsider. She finds solace when speaking to a local medium and this thread was particularly interesting and touched on magical realism.
Through stubbornness and Henry’s understanding, Tess gets her nursing license, but he forbids her to work. As his wife, labor was seen as beneath her station, but when a polio epidemic breaks out, and a hospital is set up in Hickory, Tess soon finds herself working. Here, Tess meets up with the young doctor she abandoned and confesses everything to him. It was fascinating learning more about this epidemic, iron lungs, and these makeshift hospitals. It was heartbreaking, and the story shared both joyful and tearful moments. Chamberlain detailed societies fears and misunderstandings of this epidemic that devoured children and folks of every race and social standing.
THE STOLEN MARRIAGE not only dealt with the polio epidemic, but it shared the pressures of society and racism. We delve into Tess’s mistakes and consequences. We explore Southern culture, marriage laws, racism and more. Chamberlain’s research is evident, and her eloquent writing styles paint a detailed picture of the climate and characters in 1944. There is romance threaded throughout the story, and I found it touching and surreal. We also get a bit of suspense, regarding Henry’s odd hours and hidden money.
This is the type of story that pulls you, connects you to the characters and brings the period to life in vivid color. Each of the characters is flawed and realistic. Chamberlain shines a realistic light on situations these characters faced, allowing the reader to become emotionally connected. She combines the best of fiction and history giving readers a story that will stay with them long after the book ends.
A must-read for fans of historical fiction, diversity, and American history. THE STOLEN MARIAGE ranks among my favorite Diane Chamberlain novels.The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain is a #mustread for fans of historical fiction Click To Tweet
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