Monday, December 13, 2010

186 (2010 #51). The Runaway Quilt


by Jennifer Chiaverini,
read by Christina Moore


Yet another book in the Elm Creek Quilts series, this one was rather interesting, as it explored the fascinating question of whether or not stationmasters of the Underground Railroad used quilts to signal to fugitive slaves.  In an author's note at the end of the book, Chiaverini says,

The debate about the role of quilts as signals on the Underground Railroad is ongoing [the book was published in 2002], with the oral tradition often at odds with documented historical fact.  In this novel, I have tried to remain faithful to the historical record while also presenting a plausible explanation for the evolution of the legend.

Since Chiaverini's book, it appears the argument has tilted more towards the side of legend than truth; nevertheless, it makes a good basis for the story, and the narrative is compelling enough.  Sylvia Bergstrom Compson finds three quilts and a memoir written by her great grandfather's spinster sister, Gerda Bergstrom, in the attic of Elm Creek Manor.  The memoir tells of the founding of the farm in 1856 and how Gerda, brother Hans, and his wife Anneke eventually become involved in the Underground Railroad movement, taking in a pregnant runaway slave, Joanna, before the Civil War.

The story was exciting and kept me turning the pages.  Of course Sylvia couldn't read Gerda's memoir straight through in one sitting and get all the answers, as that would have destroyed the novel, although reading it straight through at once is certainly what I would have done.

This book also poses some questions for genealogists about how you might react to surprising and perhaps unwelcome information about your ancestors.

Chiaverini has since written two books with characters from this novel.  The Lost Quilter takes up the story of Joanna, while The Union Quilters (to be published in February 2011) continues the tale of the Bergstrom ancestors and others in their Pennsylvania community during the Civil War.  More for me to listen to or read sometime.

Christina Moore, as usual, does a great job with the narration, providing recognizable variations in voice for different characters.  Recommended as an easy but intriguing "read."

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This audiobook and hardbound copy were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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