I don’t usually use this blog for book reviews of books that do not expressly involve international cultural exchange. I think this is one, however, that makes sense for the Exchange Mom audience. What we focus on here at Exchange Mom, at a basic level, is education: education about the U.S. for our international student visitors, and education about our students’ lives and cultures for our host families.
The book in this review is about the American Revolution. That is a good topic for high school exchange students coming to the U.S. Our students often take U.S. history during their time in the U.S. and some will learn for the first time about how this country became a nation. This book might be a good selection for an incoming student to read (as are others in the Tales From a Revolution series). The book is written in “ordinary” English, so most exchange students should find it relatively easy to read. I think students and families will like the story.
When I first started The Siege, I had two questions. First, I wondered how Lars Hedbor would make a story about a siege interesting. After all, what is there to say about a siege of a city that would keep a reader’s interest for more than a few pages? A city is occupied by an invading army, there is hardship, it goes on day after day after day, nothing changes from one day to the next other than more hardship. A siege could go on for a long time but it was difficult to see how a book could do the same.
I needn’t have worried. It’s all in the details, and Hedbor knows how to manage the details.
My second question was more to myself. Wait, I said … there was a siege at Yorktown? What I remember about Yorktown from my high school U.S. history is that the Americans won and it ended the war. That was the key message.
There was, indeed, a siege, one that should be a key part of the Yorktown story. When Americans think of the battle of Yorktown we still think about how the American army won against the British. Yay for the Americans, right? Maybe the French get a mention here and there, and maybe if you dig a little you’ll find out that the battle took more than a day. But we don’t talk about the siege. You don’t hear in the popular version of the Yorktown story about the ordinary townspeople who had to deal with the British in their city and in their homes. You don’t hear about what it means to be living in an occupied town. Do you have access to food? What about firewood to heat your home or do your cooking? What about the physical dangers involved in being overrun by an army that needs food and shelter and you’re in the way? What about the destruction by the occupying army of the homes of the people who had fled as the army marched in?
In reality, the battle of Yorktown included a siege of about three weeks. Hedbor walks us through how that must have felt by having us live with several ordinary people who stayed behind as others fled. He brings his characters to life with little details, filling in their backstories. They’re not just a few random people living in the town who he brings in just to have characters. They may be fictional -- but they become real in the telling of the story.
Real people in war don’t have the information we all have two hundred years later, or even the information Americans would have had within a few months after the battle. We’re with Nathaniel, our central character, as he sees some ships coming in. He wonders whose ships they are…are they more resources for the British, or do the Americans have ships he doesn’t know about? They’re French ships -- but people living their lives in town wouldn’t know that. Another detail is shown when Nathaniel briefly meets a man who is scouting the area in preparation for the eventual battle. The man speaks English with an accent, Nathaniel notes, and he wonders where the man is from and how did a foreigner so young become a general in the American army? Anyone who knows American history will immediately recognize, even before he is named in the story, that this is the Marquis de Lafayette. But Nathaniel wouldn’t know that, or have any way of knowing the how and why of French assistance.
This is what Hedbor gives us in his revolutionary war books. The Siege and other books in his Tales From A Revolution series aren’t analytical histories discussing military strategy. You can find that elsewhere. You won’t read much about the laws or policies being implemented by either the Continental Congress or the British government, except to the extent that those laws and policies affected someone’s life. These are not the topics that ordinary people thought about in the midst of war. Hedbor gives us the daily lives of those people, and it provides a whole new perspective on what it must have meant to be there.
The Siege is available in hardcopy, as an e-book, and as an audiobook -- take your pick! Buy it at Hedbor’s website, your favorite local bookstore, or order it online at Bookshop (which will use a local bookstore when they send you your purchase).*
Lars D. H. Hedbor is an amateur historian, home brewer, astronomer, fiddler, linguist, and baker. His fascination with the central question of how the populace of the American Colonies made the transition from being subjects of the Crown to citizens of the Republic drives him to tell the stories of those people, in the pages of his Tales From a Revolution novels. Hedbor lives in Beaverton, Oregon, and is an exchange student coordinator for EF High School Exchange Year.
* Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to support local, independent bookstores. As an affiliate, I receive a commission for purchases you make at Bookshop using the link above.
I received a free audio version of The Siege with a request to write a review, only if I wanted to do so. I was not directed in any way as to what I should say.