Ellen Craft was a real person. A slave, the daughter of her owner, she was given to her half-sister as a wedding present. After she married a fellow slave, William Craft, the two of them cooked up a plan to escape to freedom. Christopher Datta, in his first novel, offers a fictionalized version of Craft’s life in Touched With Fire.
Datta’s account, though fiction, is based in large part on the true story of this couple and their intense desire, not only for freedom, but for the chance to live their lives as they see fit. A compelling story, it takes the reader into the emotions of a tortured period in American history in ways that a mere recitation of facts could never accomplish. Datta gets into the minds and hearts of his characters, through credible dialogue and detailed descriptions that make the history come alive. Not only do you come away from this book with a better understanding of the corrosive effects of slavery on society and people, but an appreciation of the power of love and faith.
But, Datta doesn’t stop there. The middle part of the book, an account of Ellen Craft’s adventure masquerading as a man and enlisting in the Union Army, contains battle scenes that not only portray the details of war in rich color, but gets into the minds of those who fought those battles.
If you like historical fiction, this is a book that you must read. If you’re a first-time reader, it is even more important that you read it – to see how history can be made to come alive.
Four Stars to Datta for this first book, and I look forward to his next effort.