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The Spy Lover [Kindle Edition]

Kiana Davenport
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)

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  • Length: 303 pages
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Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
"An illegal Chinese immigrant meets a broken American warrior, and the great love story of the 21st century begins." --Christopher Kennedy, Ennui Prophet Learn more | See similar books

Book Description

Thrust into the savagery of the Civil War, a Chinese immigrant serving in the Union Army, a nurse doubling as a spy for the North, and a one-armed Confederate cavalryman find their lives inextricably entwined.

Fleeing drought and famine in China, Johnny Tom arrives in America with dreams of becoming a citizen. Having survived vigilantes hunting “yellow dogs” and slave auction-blocks, Johnny is kidnapped from his Mississippi village by Confederate soldiers, taken from his wife and daughter, and forced to fight for the South. Eventually defecting to the Union side, he is promised American citizenship in exchange for his loyal services. But first Johnny must survive the butchery of battles and the cruelties inflicted on non-white soldiers.

Desperate to find Johnny, his daughter, Era, is enlisted as a spy. She agrees to work as a nurse at Confederate camps while scouting for the North. Amidst the unspeakable carnage of wounded soldiers, she finds solace in Warren Petticomb, a cavalryman who lost an arm at Shiloh. As devastation mounts in both armies, Era must choose where her loyalties lie—with her beloved father in the North, or with the man who passionately sustains her in the South.

A novel of extraordinary scope that will stand as a defining work on the Chinese immigrant experience, The Spy Lover is a paean to the transcendence of love and the resilience of the human spirit.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Starred Review-In her blog post from April 11, 2012, Davenport asserts, “You have to write from the heart. You have to have one big, true thing you are dying to tell the world.” In her newest novel, that one big, true thing concerns the lives of men and women during the Civil War, real people who followed their own moral beliefs. The depth of the author’s affection for her characters shines through as they pick their way amid the horrors of war and the conflicting loyalties of social, political, and personal responsibility. Remiscent of Dara Horn’s All Other Night (2009) and Dave Eggers’ What Is the What(2006), Johnny Tom, a Chinese immigrant in Mississippi, is kidnapped and forced to fight for the Confederacy, then escapes to fight for the Union. His daughter, Era, a nurse, is a Northern spy saving Southern soldiers. Her unwitting lover, Warren Petticomb, wounded at Shiloh, holds Era’s heart. Giving resonance and impact to this story are the compelling characters who tap readers’ emotions; the stark realities of battle; and the heroic men and women on both sides who persevered despite horrific conditions. Davenport, author of House of Many Gods (2006), writes from the heart, and yours will be moved. —Jen Baker


"...A great story told with such beautiful prose I am hoping The Spy Lover will be picked up by Ang Lee or Steven Spielberg. Kiana Davenport is a brilliant writer. [Based] on her ancestors from the American South and global East, The Spy Lover takes the incredibly difficult...topics of race, gender, slavery and war and artfully weaves them into a specific story. Davenport is genius at capturing complex times, and complications of the heart. It's been a long time since I cried while reading a novel, and that happened several times while reading The Spy Lover...I couldn't wait to finish the story, but grieved when it ended. That's exactly how I felt when I finished reading Gone With The Wind so many years go. If you need a holiday escape...or want to spend time in a different world read... The Spy Lover!" —Ellen Snortland for The Huffington Post

"A beautifully written tale...filled with the horrors of war...and the anguish of we follow the characters on their journeys to find peace and redemption. The prose is magnificent. You will come away fulfilled. If you read one Civil War novel this year, make this the one." —Joseph A. Truglio, from Civil War News

"Beautiful writing...a page turner one could not lay down. The novel emanates from Davenport's own family history, ancestors who fought in the she tells the story of a woman and her lover, the conflict between love, conscience and determination...I have no hesitation in recommending 'The Spy Lover' to anyone who enjoys stories of the Civil War as well as of genuine conflicts, love and dedication...It will go into a special niche of historical fiction and ...likely become a classic like 'Cold Mountain.' " —Martha Boltz of The Washington Times

"A powerful love story and serious historical tribute to the many under-recognized minority soldiers... Kiana Davenport is simply ingenious in the way she writes and tells her story based on two ancestors who fought on opposite sides of the War. A piercing, glorious and unsettling novel you are unlikely to ever forget. I recommend The Spy Lover as one of the best war stories I have ever encountered." —Melanie Smith, Book Reporter

"...Memorable [in] her depiction of the lives of women during the [Civil] War, as well as those of mixed race...Like the best historical fiction the book's deep research is felt in every line and authenticates every character. The Spy Lover easily joins, and even surpasses Cold Mountain." —Don Wallace, HONOLULU WEEKLY

"A page turner, like Davenport's other fiction, The Spy Lover is full of suspense, yet it also plunges deep. With compassion toward all her characters, whether they fight for the North or the South, Davenport dramatizes the agony of divided loyalties and the brutalities of war...High drama, high tension, high romance." —Alix Kates Shulman, Bestselling author of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, and Menage

"This author does a fantastic job presenting the scenery, pain, and depth of the Civil War and how it truly split loved ones apart. Sometimes in horrific detail, especially the battle of Gettysburg, this author makes it feel as if the reader is actually on that field experiencing every death. Having these characters based on the very real souls of the author's own ancestors who came to America during the 1800s, made the story even more compelling, and is highly recommended." —Amy Lignor, author of Tallent & Lowery - 13 for Suspense Magazine

"(In) The Spy Lover, (Davenport) pulls from her Alabama-born father’s family history to tell a gripping Civil War story about three complicated, suffering people—a nurse who’s spying for the Union behind enemy lines, a Chinese immigrant who escapes his conscription into the Confederacy to fight for the Union instead, and a wounded Confederate cavalryman. Davenport doesn’t buffer the brutality of war, presenting a stark portrayal of its horrors and the damage it can inflict on body and soul in her well-researched tale." —Bookpage

“Davenport delivers a surprisingly heartwarming ending, which will please readers. Civil War buffs will also appreciate and be impressed by the author’s intricate depiction of the conflict.” —

Product Details

  • File Size: 1373 KB
  • Print Length: 303 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (August 28, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006ZNA0UQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,236 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Winner From Kiana Davenport August 9, 2012
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
American Civil War fiction is not a genre I seek out, but when I saw Kiana Davenport's name on this one, I couldn't resist. She always provides fresh angles on old stories. I can count on her to teach me something new, with facts as well as points of view.

I didn't know that Chinese immigrant men had been kidnapped and forced into service as Confederate soldiers. I also didn't know that women in the South grew opium poppies hidden among their other crops, providing opium "bull's-eyes" to their fighting men to fuel their victories in battle. This of course left a nation full of dope-addicted veterans when the war was over.

THE SPY LOVER is smaller in scope and time frame than Davenport's sweeping novels of Hawaii. This one is meant as an homage to two of her ancestors who fought in the Civil War, so the focus is more narrow and there is less opportunity to add complex layers to the characters. The story is told almost entirely in the present tense, which is not my favorite, but I was able to adjust to it as the novel progressed.

There are three main characters whose lives are woven together as the novel alternates among their separate experiences of the Civil War.
Johnny Tom is a Chinese immigrant who was taken from his family to fight for the South, but he escaped to fight for the North. As he moves from battle to battle and in and out of prisoner-of-war camps, we learn of his life in China and his peregrinations after arriving in America.

Era Tom is Johnny's teenage daughter. She agreed to spy for the North in exchange for information about her father's whereabouts. Working as a nurse in a Confederate hospital, she meets and falls in love with Warren Petticomb, a Confederate cavalryman who lost an arm at Shiloh.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible but difficult story September 17, 2012
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Spy Lover is one of the most amazing books that I have read this year. Make no mistake, this is a story about war and loss and therefore difficult to read. There is a graphic depiction of the horrors of war, the mistreatment of non-whites and the widespread abuse of women. The author aptly describes how boys on both sides of the battle become bloodthirsty butchers as they are caught up in the war. It is a story of how far removed from their humanity people can become during times of war. But, it is also a story of love and friendship and self discovery. And you certainly don't have to be a fan of military history to enjoy the book.

Johnny Tom is a Chinese immigrant to the United States who was forced into slavery upon his arrival on the mainland. He escapes and settles with his wife in a small, isolated Chinese village in the South. Their quiet life is shattered by the outbreak of war and Johnny Tom is forced into the Rebel Army only to escape and to begin to fight for the Union army. His daughter, Era is a nurse who serves on the Confederate side of the battle, exchanging information about the army in hopes of getting word about her father. She has no friends due to her purposefully distant personality until one day, a cavalry man named Warren is brought into the surgeons tent to have his arm amputated. The war causes horrible injuries and the sound of the surgeons saws run late into the night as the wounded pour into camps and the pile of severed limbs grows. Era nurses Warren to health and so beings their relationship. The relationship becomes their anchor, their steadying force amongst so much butchery and misery.

The story is well written and told from the alternating first perspective of Johnny Tom, Era and Warren.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars UNUSUAL AND EXTRAORDINARY August 2, 2012
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
You may never again read an account of the Civil War as potent as THE SPY LOVER. Where could we find an a story both heartbreakingly realistic while poetic and beautiful in spots? Where would we read about Chinese immigrants who fought in that epic slaughter we name the war between the states? Have we ever realized what terrible prejudice people acted from toward orientals who worked like slaves on so many important endeavors ? Many of the Chinese who worked on the trancontinental railroad are buried beneath its tracks. Ms. Davenport is a gifted writer who has given us a narrative we will not soon forget. In reading we may pause over the horrifying details of our terrible war while noting the beauty with which things are often written. The author gives us a story whose ultimate morality is love and forgiveness.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting context, but a bit too graphic August 11, 2012
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This novel was a little too graphic in it's depictions of war brutality for my particular taste. I appreciate that the author didn't want to portray the Civil War as purely heroic and honorable, and perhaps wished to draw attention to the harsher truths hidden behind the shining facade. I am completely onboard with this, as a lot of horrible things happen during war, any war, even one for the 'right' reasons. However, I just found a lot of the descriptions contained in this novel a bit too difficult to read: very brutal, and rather disturbing. The multitude of such descriptions took away from the storyline in my opinion.
Nevertheless, this is not to say that this is a bad novel. The storyline itself was very absorbing, and I found the plethora of different characters interesting to read about. They were all uniquely different, with very different backgrounds and experiences. Also it was intriguing to read of people from many different ethnicities, for it brought to light the concept of America as a 'melting pot' of many different cultures. That's a thing to be proud of in my opinion.
The inclusion of the Chinese immigrants was particularly interesting to me. I was unaware that many Chinese were kidnapped and taken to work on sugar farms in Haiwaii, forced to work or sent back to China where they faced execution for leaving. Although not the first American Civil War novel i've read this novel has still taught me about a part of history that I previously had no knowledge of.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written
I enjoyed the historical fiction. Great love story but also a great lesson or reminder about a very dark period in our country, the civil war. Nicely done.
Published 1 month ago by Sharon
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story for All Times
This novel moves one to the depths of your soul. So full of life, horrors of war beyond imaginings, and redemption. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jenny H.
5.0 out of 5 stars Would give it a bazillion stars!
Where to begin. Don't like the civil war or war novels in general or war? No problem. Don't like romance? No problem. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Coral Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars Onhe of the best
One of the best Civil War novels, hard edged and romantic, but not
sentimental because it focusses on the divided conscience with
both the North and South. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Paul Nelson
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This novel is excellent. The characters are complex and the story is moving. I highly recommend this book. It is truly a great story.
Published 4 months ago by Lauren D. Ersner
5.0 out of 5 stars Well documented and written.
Kiana's description of each major characters: Tom, a Chinese immigrant, and his Creek Native American wife, and his beautiful daughter Era is nothing short of incredible. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Barbara Daligcon
5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful , desperate account of love
This tale of the civil war finally gives us a portrait of complexities of lives of men and women rarely addressed in more simplistic accounts.
Published 5 months ago by Gabrielle H. Silver
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this treasure!
A beautifully-written story of love and war. One of my favorite books
Published 5 months ago by Robbie Orme
4.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed the book
I enjoyed the book.. It was slow going in parts, but not where I lost interest. I thought the information shared about life during the Civil War was eye opening............ Read more
Published 7 months ago by Suezay51
5.0 out of 5 stars another amazing book by Davenport
I was surprised by the content of this book. I expected a relatively current novel. Instead I was drawn into the civil war. Her research of the battles is amazing. Read more
Published 7 months ago by anniehum
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More About the Author

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, HOUSE OF MANY GODS, THE SPY LOVER, and most recently, THE SOUL AJAR, now available in paperback and on Kindle. She is also the author of the collections, HOUSE OF SKIN PRIZE-WINNING STORIES, CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES Volume II, and OPIUM DREAMS, PACIFIC STORIES, VOLUME III. All three collections have been Kindle bestsellers. She has also been a guest blogger on Huffington Post.

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 Hawaii and New York City.

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