This historical fiction novel also has an element of mystery. “The Stolen Marriage,” is a book full of secrets, betrayals, prejudice and forgiveness. This page-turner has likeable well-rounded characters and plenty of family drama. Readers are immersed in a detailed account of the daily life in the American South during World War II.
The story begins in 1944 with 23-year-old nursing student Tess DiMello about to graduate with her degree and engaged to marry the love of her life pediatrician Dr. Vincent Russo. Tess and Vincent have grown up as next-door neighbors in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore, and have planned their future together.
Their plans deviate when Vincent heads to Chicago to temporarily assist with the infantile paralysis crisis that is sweeping the country because of the polio epidemic. Vincent suffers from a heart murmur and cannot fight in the war, but is determined to battle the polio epidemic. His two weeks in Chicago stretches into six months. Each time Tess receives a call explaining that Vincent will once again be detained she selfishly resents it.
Tess’s best friend, Gina, talks her into going to Washington D.C. for the weekend to forget about the war, the polio epidemic and Vincent’s absence. Staying at Gina’s aunt’s tourist home are two businessmen. After a night of dinner, drinking and missing Vincent, Tess is unable to say “no” to the drunken advances of businessman Henry Kraft.
Tess quietly returns to Baltimore and soon realizes she is pregnant. She heads to Hickory, North Carolina to look up furniture factory owner Henry Kraft to ask him for financial support. Tess plans to take the money and find a nursing job away from Baltimore and raise her child alone. Henry has his own secrets and surprises Tess by proposing marriage. Tess accepts the proposal and moves to Hickory leaving behind a note for Vincent with his engagement ring.
Tess soon learns that her marriage to Henry is a farce, a marriage of convenience, allowing him to keep his secrets. It is a life-changing mistake for them both to have married. The Krafts are a wealthy well-respected southern family and they consider Tess as an outsider and gold-digger.
Things change when a children’s polio hospital is established in Hickory. The people of Hickory work together to build and staff the polio hospital in a mere 54 hours. Tess, against the Kraft family wishes, gets her North Carolina nursing license and volunteers at the hospital. The people of Hickory change their attitude towards Tess as they watch her work at the hospital, and she changes her attitude about them.
Eventually Henry and Tess learn more about one another. As the story progresses and the secrets unfold, readers will gain respect for Henry because of his open mindedness, flexibility, generosity and good heart. One can’t help but cheer Tess on as she deals with each crisis she encounters, growing in strength and confidence.
Chamberlain had written an engrossing book that expertly merges historical fact with fiction. She’s also created a cast of likeable characters. Fans of Jodi Picoult will love this book.