Touched With Fire: Based on the True Story of Ellen Craft. Christopher Datta. CreateSpace Publishing. June 2015. 398 pp. ISBN#: 9781490498836.
Ellie is a white woman of African-American and white descent. But all that matters in her Georgia home is that she remember her place as a slave. Her white father never admits her forced himself on her mother and never feels he has any duty to acknowledge his daughter, let alone treat her decently as any father should. She is constantly threatened by the leering looks of her half-sister’s husband, a minister and more men without any morals.
This is the world of Southern slavery. One may decry the dozens of conversations Ellie is forced to listen to while serving dinner or some other visitor, dialogue that is repetitive with the notion of keeping slaves in their place and either beating them violently or selling them if they get out of line. What is so despicable to read was the accepted way of life in the pre-Civil War lives of the South. Revisionist history has no place in this story that is actually based on a real slave. This is the story of Ellie and Will, William Craft, Ellie’s husband.
Ellie and Will dared to do what few slaves would ever do and I can’t recall ever reading a story like this one. For Ellie with her very white appearance disguises herself as a man, the owner of Will, and their goal is to find freedom in Philadelphia. To tell more would ruin an amazingly bold and courageous story!
Suffice to say that they travel but soon realize they cannot make it for a legal reason they had not anticipated. So when war breaks out between the North and South, Will must return to the South and Ellie joins the Union Army, determined to fight her way back to Will and hopefully to freedom for both of them.
Christopher Datta crafts a fine story in which Ellie shows not only grit and perseverance but also reveals her terrible fears. Her skill and her insistence of thinking like a man defy our expectations and enable her to survive so many tension-ridden challenges that one can’t stop turning the pages to find out what happens next. The love she and Will share is lovely to read, a love in which both treat each other respectfully and passionately as equals. This is fine, fine historical fiction and is highly recommended for all ages. It would make one amazing movie as well!