Olivia Aberdeen, destitute widow of a murdered carpetbagger, gratefully accepts an invitation from “Aunt” Elizabeth Harding, mistress of Belle Meade Plantation and the dearest friend of Olivia’s late mother. Expecting to be the Harding’s housekeeper, Olivia is disillusioned once again when she learns the real reason why Elizabeth’s husband, Confederate General William Giles Harding, agreed to her coming. Caring for an ill Aunt Elizabeth, Olivia is caught off guard by her feelings for Ridley Adam Cooper, a southern-born son who—unbeknownst to her and everyone else—fought for the Union.
Determined to learn “the gift” that Belle Meade’s head horse trainer, Bob Green, possesses, Ridley is a man desperate to end the war still raging inside him while harboring secrets that threaten his life. As Ridley seeks to make peace within himself for “betraying” the South he loved, Olivia is determined to never be betrayed again…
Set within the remarkable history of Nashville’s historic Belle Meade Plantation, comes a story about enslavement and freedom, arrogance and humility, and the power of love to heal even the deepest of wounds.
As a keen student of history, I love historic novels set in actual places. We can imagine what life was like when a site was inhabited. Belle Meade Plantation is located southwest of Nashville, Tennessee, and was once known for its thoroughbred horse breeding. Racing giants such as Secretariat and Barbaro are descended from Belle Meade stock. Today, much of the surrounding land has been sold off, but the mansion, barns and several outbuildings are open to the public in the form of a museum. To Whisper Her Name is set shortly after end of the Civil War, and covers the time leading up to the first of Belle Meade’s famous annual yearling sales.
In this book, Tamera Alexander has brought the past to life beautifully. First, we get an idea of how large the plantation once was. It was a self-sufficient operation and even contained three quarries. But the best aspect by far is how Alexander gives a voice to those long gone. General Harding did exist and was responsible for Belle Meade’s legacy. His wife Elizabeth and daughters Selene and Mary were also pivotal to Belle Meade. Serene’s husband, General William Hicks Jackson took over the operation after Harding’s death. But the most important character is the former slave, Robert “Uncle Bob” Green. As Alexander notes in her novel, Green was brought to the plantation with his parents as a wedding gift. He grew up with the horses and became a renowned horse whisperer. In To Whisper Her Name, he is the reason for Ridley’s arrival, and although he knows Ridley fought with the Yankees he keeps it a secret.
To Whisper Her Name has all the requisites for a good read. We have the tragedy wrought by a terrible war, romance between two characters with secrets that could make or break them and, thanks to scandal, Olivia is shunned by Nashville society. Add in a complex mix of characters from pompous military gentlemen to the former slaves who serve them, and you have a charming novel.
Make sure you check out the video vignettes about Belle Meade on a special section of Tamera Alexander’s website. There’s even a photograph of Uncle Bob.
Publication Date: 23 October 2012
Page Count: 480
I downloaded my free copy of To Whisper Her Name from Zondervan via NetGalley. I was under no obligation to write a review.