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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Lost Quilter...Review

About the book:
Master Quilter Sylvia Bergstrom Compson treasures an antique quilt called by three names -- Birds in the Air, after its pattern; the Runaway Quilt, after the woman who sewed it; and the Elm Creek Quilt, after the place to which its maker longed to return. That quilter was Joanna, a fugitive slave who traveled by the Underground Railroad to reach safe haven in 1859 at Elm Creek Farm.

Though Joanna's freedom proved short-lived -- she was forcibly returned by slave catchers to Josiah Chester's plantation in Virginia -- she left the Bergstrom family a most precious gift, her son. Hans and Anneke Bergstrom, along with maiden aunt Gerda, raised the boy as their own, and the secret of his identity died with their generation. Now it falls to Sylvia -- drawing upon Gerda's diary and Joanna's quilt -- to connect Joanna's past to present-day Elm Creek Manor.

Just as Joanna could not have foreseen that, generations later, her quilt would become the subject of so much speculation and wonder, Sylvia and her friends never could have imagined the events Joanna witnessed in her lifetime. Punished for her escape by being sold off to her master's brother in Edisto Island, South Carolina, Joanna grieves over the loss of her son and resolves to run again, to reunite with him someday in the free North. Farther south than she has ever been, she nevertheless finds allies, friends, and even love in the slave quarter of Oak Grove, a cotton plantation where her skill with needle and thread soon becomes highly prized.

Through hardship and deprivation, Joanna dreams of freedom and returning to Elm Creek Farm. Determined to remember each landmark on the route north, Joanna pieces a quilt of scraps left over from the household sewing, concealing clues within the meticulous stitches. Later, in service as a seamstress to the new bride of a Confederate officer, Joanna moves on to Charleston, where secrets she keeps will affect the fate of a nation, and her abilities and courage enable her to aid the country and the people she loves most.

The knowledge that scraps can be pieced and sewn into simple lines -- beautiful both in and of themselves and also for what they represent and what they can accomplish -- carries Joanna through dark days. Sustaining herself and her family through ingenuity and art during the Civil War and into Reconstruction, Joanna leaves behind a remarkable artistic legacy that, at last, allows Sylvia to discover the fate of the long-lost quilter.

I've read the Elm Creek books and, with few exceptions, I've liked them all. The Lost Quilter picks up the story of Joanna, the runaway slave from The Runaway Quilt. As with the other Elm Creek books, this one begins with Sylvia discovering a new fact about her family or their quilting. While the beginning and end of the book are about Sylvia trying to find out information about Joanna, the book itself is, Joanna's story.

After her son was born at the Bergstrom farm, Joanna was recaptured and returned to her master in Virginia. She took with her a desire to find her son, her newly found ability to read and her mastery with the needle. Her master sells her to his brother in South Carolina and Joanna begins a new life, finding friends and love. Joanna dreams of returning to Elm Creek and she pieces a quilt, reminiscent of the underground railroad quilts. In it she sews the landmarks she remembers, in hopes that someday it will guide her back to Elm Creek.

Joanna's strength sees her through difficulties with selfish mistresses and the Civil War, and the legacy she leaves behind will finally answer some of Sylvia's questions.

I was prepared to not like this book. I think that, at some point, a story needs to end. While I do think Jennifer Chiaverini runs the risk of weakening a strong story if she insists on giving every possible character their own book, I enjoyed this one. Slave narratives have always fascinated me, and reading the story from Joanna's viewpoint was compelling.

An easy, interesting read.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/09

* * *

3/5 Stars


  1. Glad to see this one was better than you expected!

  2. I have read all the books in the series but I think I'm done with it. Its gone on too long.

  3. I've never read any of this series but this sounds like something I'd be interested in though. Thanks for the review.