Wednesday, March 14, 2012

274 (2012 #19). Sonoma Rose

by Jennifer Chiaverini

This is #19 in the Elm Creek Quilts series, but you really don't have to have read any of the previous books to enjoy this one, since it's historical fiction.  The main character here, Rosa Diaz Barclay, was introduced in The Quilter's Homecoming, and this book is also set in California in the late 1920s, in the midst of Prohibition.

Rosa married John, a Southern California rye farmer and postmaster, a man she didn't love, to legitimize her true love's baby.  Eight children later (with yet another by her lover), Rosa is miserable - half of her children are dead of a mysterious wasting disease, and her husband has become abusive and won't let Rosa take the surviving sick children (who are the two who are his) to specialists in the big city.

In a jealous rage, John beats Rosa and threatens to kill her lover, Lars Jorgensen, who Rosa did not marry all those years ago due to her family's prejudices and Lars' drinking problem.  This time, though, Lars and Rosa run away with the children to San Francisco.  Rosa finds John's stash of cash from bootlegging and takes most of it with her.  John, meanwhile, is imprisoned for bootlegging and initially thinks Rosa and the children perished in a flash flood in a nearby canyon.

Rosa and Lars, posing as Rose and Nils Otteson, ultimately find work in a family vineyard in Sonoma County.  The sick children are diagnosed with celiac disease, and a diet of bananas (with no wheat products) improves their health.  Rosa/Rose and Lars/Nils face other problems though, with more bootleggers (including their employers), dirty Prohibition agents, and the fear that John (or the police or gangsters) will find them.

There's not a lot about quilts or quilting in this book, but I learned a lot about wine making and the sufferings of family vintners during the Prohibition years.  It was also very interesting to read about the early treatment of celiac disease, as I have a number of relatives with this illness.  Chiaverini provides her research sources in acknowledgments at the end of the book.

Rosa isn't always likable, but she is a strong heroine.  There's a lot of sadness and darkness in this book - illness, regret, loneliness, isolation, abuse, rape, alcoholism, adultery, lying, law-breaking - but that, and intriguing supporting characters, are what makes the story.  Ultimately, it's nice to see Rosa find happiness with the man she loves and her growing, healthy children.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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