Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: The Sugar Camp Quilt, by Jennifer Chiaverini: + The Lost Quilter, by Jennifer Chiaverini

I am doing two books together this time, and for a good reason.  First, some background.

Jennifer Chiaverini writes the Elm Creek Quilt books.  There are currently 16 books in the series (I am getting them all for my birthday, I am a lucky duck!).  Although it is not really a series as such.

Most of the books are based around the lives of those at Elm Creek Manor - the Bergstrom family.  Some are set in current day around the only living descendent - Sylvia.  Others are set in the past.  The current day ones are based around a Quilt Camp and the lives of the women who run it.  They are why I started reading them.  They are beautiful feel good books that explore these women's lives.

The rest of the books go into the past.  I am not a fan of historical fiction.  I usually find it is written in a way that I personally find boring and tedious to read.  I find little relevance and basically don't read them.

Until now.

There are actually three books (so far) that are about the issue of slavery at the time in American History just before and then during the American Civil War.  Being an Aussie I have known absolutely nothing of American History or of the time when Africans were ripped from their land and brought in to America to be sold as slaves.  I knew it had happened, but that was it.  The first of the three books - The Runaway Quilt - started to open my eyes.  I am not reviewing that as these two are more closely linked, but it is definitely worth the read as well.  And a good idea to read it first.

The Sugar Camp Quilt follows the story of the very first Bergstroms who built Elm Creek Manor.  They were German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania before the start of the American Civil War.  Through various channels they become involved with the "Underground Railroad" which is a group of people who assisted slaves escape from their captivity in the South and give them safe passage to Canada where they can can settle as free people.

Before long Joanna turns up on their door.  She has escaped, she is ill, and she is pregnant.  Rather than sending her to the next post they keep her with them for the duration of her pregnancy.  A few months after her baby boy is born she is caught and forcibly returned to her owner in the south.  The Bergstroms and other people in town involved with the Underground Railroad are imprisoned.  When they get out they try to find Joanna, whose baby was left at the house when she was taken away.

The Lost Quilter takes over Joanna's story once she is captured and returned to her owner (who is also the father of her baby that is now with the Bergstrom family).  She is returned to him and severely beaten (caned) then sold further south to make any thoughts of escape near on impossible.  There she meets her future husband, another slave, who also dreams of escape.

Before they can do anything Joanna is given away and is torn from her husband and their baby girl (who according to the laws of the time actually belongs to the person that "owned" her when the baby was born and not to the mother).  They still managed some communication though and eventually the time comes that they make their escape attempt so they can go and collect Joanna's lost son and live a life of freedom.

I have to say that these are definitely not my "style" of books.  In fact, none of them, even the modern day ones, are.  I like detective novels.  Have lived on them forever.  But something about these books have captured my heart - hence getting the entire series for my birthday so I don't have to keep borrowing them from the library.

Jennifer Chiaverini is an absolutely beautiful writer.  She makes these characters jump from the page and capture your heart.  If you are looking for something unique or a little bit different to what you normally read, I strongly suggest you go to your local library and check these books out.  You won't regret it.


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