I had heard of the book series “Elm Creek Quilters” by Jennifer Chiaverini, but had never read them, so I picked up this audiobook in the “new releases” section of the library. The central character in the series is Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, a woman who runs a quilting camp from her family’s Elm Creek Manor. Each book tells a different but related story.
In “The Lost Quilter”, Sylvia has discovered some letters and information in an old desk that refer to a runaway slave who stayed at Elm Creek Manor in the 1860’s, gave birth to a child, and then was recaptured and returned to slavery in the South. The book tells this slave, Joanna’s, story as she struggles to survive, to escape slavery, and to maintain her dignity. Joanna was a gifted seamstress, and quilter, and the story of her struggles were incorporated into the quilts she leaves behind. Sylvia works to make the connections between what she knows about Joanna in order to discover what became of her.
I really enjoyed listening to this story. The plot held my attention throughout. Joanna’s story was disturbing and unsettling at times (often) as Chiaverini depicted the harsh realities of life for a slave in the South. Chiaverini’s portrayal of the slave owners was particularly good, I thought, as she showed their cruelty as emerging from ignorance, as opposed to being part of their personalities. Some of the actions of the slave owners were deplorable, but they truly thought they were doing what was right and appropriate (disturbing, but true).
Joanna is a strong woman, and she works to protect her little daughter, Ruthie, her husband, Titus (from whom she is taken away), and her “adopted” daughter, Hannah. Joanna is committed to creating a better life for them beyond slavery. Her story takes her from childhood through adulthood, from slavery to freedom.
I loved this book and got several more of the Elm Creek books out from the library to read!
I’d give it 4 1/2 stars!