15 March, 2010

The Runaway Quilt

The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

Yep, another Elm Creek Quilt novel. They are just so easy to chew through!

In the fourth novel in the series, Sylvia is approached by Margaret Alden who owns a quilt called the Elm Creek Quilt. It is a family heirloom and the connection to Elm Creek has been lost. It is also known as the Runaway Quilt. Stitched into the quilt's quilting design is Elm Creek Manor and part of the surrounding country side. What has Sylvia in a flap is Margaret's family are Southerners and her descendants were slave owners. Could this quilt have been taken south by a descendant of Sylvia's, meaning there was a slave owner in her history? The encounter encourages Sylvia to go searching for a chest which is suppose to contain a quilt made by her Great-Grandmother Anneke. Not only does Sylvia find the quilt, she finds another and a diary written by her great Aunt Gerda. As Sylvia reads the journal, she discovers several stories from her childhood are true, others have been exaggerated or changed over telling and of her ancestors involvement in the underground railway.

Once again Jennifer Chiaverini has managed to keep the Elm Creek series interesting by making the main focus of the book someone other than the already familiar characters. Being Australian, I don't know a lot of American history, but I was aware of the issue of slave ownership, the eventual war between north and south and how which side of the border you were on was not necessarily indicative of your views on the matter. This novel did teach me more about how slaves tried to escape and the difficulties they faced. I always assumed if they made it over the border into the north, they were safe. Instead, they had to be able to make it all the way to Canada. Even northerners who assisted escaped slaves were able to be prosecuted. Despite it's light weight feel, The Runaway Quilt gave me much to think about - not only in terms of slavery and escape, but the role of quilting and sewing in American history.