Publication Date October 3, 2017
In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.
The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.
When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behavior and save her own life?
The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain Book Review
Diane Chamberlain is a wonderful writer, so lets just set that aside. In reading the description for The Stolen Marriage, I thought it might try to tackle too much. A book about polio, racial tensions, World War II, a young woman who marries a stranger & moves to a town that doesn’t understand her; surely that’s too much, right? Nope. This book works & it’s unbelievably well-written, memorable & meaningful.
Tess is a lovely character. She’s a young Catholic girl living in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood. Tess dreams of becoming a nurse & working side by side with her doctor fiance, Vincent. See, Tess & Vincent have known each other since they were children. Vincent’s parents love Tess, both families attend & are active in the church. They are engaged, have plans for the future & are deeply in love. The book’s description doesn’t tell us much about Vincent if anything & I think it should. Tess’s departure from her engagement to her childhood love leaves her family reeling & leaves her alone.
“You Don’t Know Your Husband Very Well”
Readers wind up in Hickory, North Carolina with Tess & her husband, Henry Kraft. The Kraft family is well to do, but they’ve got some secrets. Henry’s mother & sister expected Henry to marry a different girl. They see Tess as a gold digger & nothing more. Despite her desire the take the nursing exam in North Carolina, Henry & his mother forbid it. The Kraft family insists Tess not work outside of the home. As Tess tries to make the best of her new life in Hickory, she begins to lose herself. Henry isn’t cruel, but he’s not very loving. It seems like he’s just nice enough to engage Tess, but not enough for her to truly feel loved.
Diane does a masterful job introducing readers to Hickory residents. Perhaps my favorite character, besides Tess, is Reverend Sam. Sam lives on the “colored” side of town & he can connect with spirits. He is a kind, gentle man who gives Tess a much-needed sense of belonging.
Polio, the War & Love
Tess is tough, smart & resilient. She’s in this situation where she is dependent upon this family that doesn’t like her very much. Somehow, she still has enough of her old self to insist she works in the town’s newly planned polio hospital. Here, she begins to find herself again & like Stella, she gets her groove back. While she’s saving lives, she meets other residents of Hickory. At the hospital, she learns more about her husband- much more.
The Stolen Marriage reads like beautiful historical fiction novel with an underlying note of mystery & intrigue. From what I know to be true about the polio epidemic in the United States, Diane does a great job of representing the truth. We see iron lungs, bandages, physical therapists, hot whirlpools and fear take over the town. Throughout it all is my girl, Tess.
I was Really Into This book. I loved every page of The Stolen Marriage. To me, if I would re-read a book, then I know it’s in my top category & I would re-read this in an instant. I cried & smiled my way through the pages. Tess made a mark on my heart. Not since I met The Radium Girls has a female character had me championing them throughout the entirety of the book. Despite what she faced, she was still a caring, empathetic & smart woman. The Stolen Marriage is a must read.
To read more reviews from Sarah, check out her page here.
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Although the thematic focus of her books often revolves around family, love, compassion, and forgiveness, her stories usually feature a combination of drama, mystery, secrets and intrigue. Diane’s background in psychology has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create her realistic characters.
Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent her summers at the Jersey Shore. She also lived for many years in San Diego and northern Virginia before making North Carolina her home. Diane received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, Diane worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria Virginia specializing in adolescents. All the while Diane was writing on the side. Her first book, Private Relations was published in 1989 and it earned the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel.
Diane lives with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie, Cole. She has three stepdaughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. She’s currently at work on her next novel.