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Book Title: The Runaway Quilt|
Date of issue: March 25th 2003
ISBN 13: 9780452283985
The author of the book: Jennifer Chiaverini
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 318 KB
Read full description of the books The Runaway Quilt:4.5 ★s
The ageing Sylvia Bergstrom Compson is prompted by a stranger’s request to look into items that have been stored in the attics at historic Elm Creek Manor for decades. She finds three very old quilts, stitched by unnamed ancestors, and a book of memoirs, written by her great grandfather’s sister Gerda. It sets out the story of how the Bergstroms arrived at Elm Creek Farm and established themselves. It also reveals, gradually, their participation in the Underground Railway, i.e. an underground network that helped to smuggle runaway black slaves from Southern states through to freedom in Canada. Hans and Gerda were committed Abolitionists, but Hans’s wife Anneke had less conviction. They harboured many fleeing blacks, including the brave but needy Joanna, escapee from a brutal Virginia plantation owner. In time their activities aroused the suspicions of local pro-Slavery advocates. It resulted in their arrests for breaking the laws relating to runaway slaves, and caused great disruption in the family’s harmony.
The story shows various aspects of pioneering life in the backwoods of rural USA in the 1850s, in particular the social organisations that were set up to counter social isolation. Women’s quilting circles were very popular, including the one that Gerda and Anneke attended in the town of Creek’s Crossing, later known as Waterford.
The mysteries which Sylvia and her colleagues attempt to solve are (a) whether the old quilts did indeed carry coded messages for the runaways to follow in their journeys to freedom, and (b) who made the fragile, old quilts found in the attic, as this discovery might lead Sylvia to a new understanding of the Bergstrom family tree.
There is an exquisite dilemma at the core of this book. How important is it to uphold a principle, however virtuous, if it endangers your family, including vulnerable babies? In the novel Gerda is portrayed as the highly principled, uncompromising member of the family, deeply committed to doing good, even at her own personal expense. Her sister-in-law, Anneke, is softer, more tractable, less judgemental. She has recently given birth, she's living in a fairly remote part of rural Pennsylvania during a period of social upheaval, with the burning issue of the abolition of slavery smouldering away and impacting on everyone's lives. As the narrator of the memoir, Gerda judges Anneke unkindly but I'm inclined to sympathise with the latter. I suspect the vast majority of mothers, both now and in the 1850s, might feel similarly, in their maternal need to protect their children.
The other interesting question that remains unanswered at the end of the book is whether every child has the right to know his/her own heritage. Certainly in today's society this issue is a given, but that may not have been the case in 1859. How the Bergstroms handle this delicate topic is interesting...
This book is a lively account of an interesting period of history, beautifully written in Jennifer Chiaverini's characteristic elegant prose. I greatly enjoyed the story, in particular the illumination of what might be called secret women's business in the coded messages issued to assist fugitive slaves. Of all the Elm Creek Quilt novels I've read so far, this one stands out for the moral questions it poses, which occupied my mind for many days after finishing the book. The Runaway Quilt would be a great Book Club title. The book is also very appealing to anyone with a genuine interesting in patchwork quilting and similar handcrafts.
It is possible to read the Elm Creek Quilt novels as stand-alone books. However, it is definitely helpful to read them in order, at least the first two, Round Robin and The Quilter's Apprentice. Previously, I'd read the books at random, and am enjoying going back to the start and reading them in sequence. I love this series.
Read information about the authorJennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, "In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years."
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