Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee in 1917 wasn’t the “rural, undeveloped South” of northern newspaper articles; it was a land far beyond. It was a place of the steepest mountains, the wildest river gorges, the meanest lives, and the shortest winter rations in the country. It was deep, hard, lonesome, and –if you weren’t starving to death–beautiful.
Stephen Robbins has been running the glamorous Mountain Park Hotel in Hot Springs, North Carolina for seven years. An insomniac, alcoholic widower, Stephen is devoted to his hotel and the people who work with him, confessing that he feels physically one with the elegant architecture. But Stephen’s life is about to change radically. World War I finds its way to the Mountain Park Hotel in the form of 2,000 German nationals, trapped in the United States after the declaration of war. Forced to turn the hotel into an internment camp, Stephen thinks he has more than he can handle. Not only is he expected to babysit 2,000 Germans, but he also has to keep the increasingly bloodthirsty townsfolk of Hot Springs from violence, especially his violent cousin Roy, who just happens to be the Sheriff. Sheriff Roy Robbins has no reason to love Stephen– thanks to a terrible mistake, Stephen shot and killed Roy’s brother a few years back. Roy is biding his time for revenge, and Stephen knows it.
Then Anna Ulmann, New York photographer, steps into the impending catastrophe. Fleeing a domineering husband in the North, she has also come south with a very real desire to photograph the internees in their prison. Stephen is by turns annoyed and attracted to the beautiful Anna, but he can’t help falling in love with her. Together, the two stand against escapees, typhoid, bodies arriving from the European front, and society’s own mandates against a married woman falling in love with a man who is not her husband. With blood feuds and angry husbands lying in wait, will Anna and Stephen survive the coming storm?
Written in descriptive, intelligent prose, this debut novel is a moving tale of finding love and empathy in a time of conflict, and what it means to be a prisoner in spirit, even if the body is free.
Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.