30 June, 2010

The Lost Quilter

The Lost Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Lost Quilter is the 14th book in the Elm Creek Quilts Series. Only two more to go - at least until March 2011 when the next book is due!
After my disappointment at the last Elm Creek Book - The Quilter's Kitchen - I was really pleased to find how much I enjoyed The Lost Quilter.
In the Runaway Quilt, we were introduced to Joanna, a runaway slave who was sheltered by the Bergstroms and set them on the path of being a station on the underground railway. The Bergstroms and therefore the readers, never found out what happened to Joanna. All they knew was she had made a Birds in the Air quilt that had landmarks stitched into it, presumably to help her find her way back to Elm Creek.
The Lost Quilter opens with the discovery of an old letter in a desk, asking Gerda (one of Sylvia's anscestors who helped Joanna) if she knew the whereabouts Douglass Frederick. It is assumed this is Joanna's son who was born during her stay with the Bergstroms and raised by Sylvia's great-grandparents as their own. Once again this encourages Sylvia to try and discover what happened to Joanna.
After this introductory piece, the reader is led back to 1859 and Joanna's recapture. The book then follows her story from that time to her eventual escape to freedom during the civil war.
I've read a little about the time of slavery in America, but not a huge amount. Everytime I do, I am struck with the same anger and confusion I feel when I read about the Stolen Generation in Australia. I simply cannot wrap my head around the arrogance it must take to believe you are better than someone else simply because of the colour of your skin. Not only that, to think that another human does not feel emotions like you do, again, simply because of skin colour. I know there is a historical context, influences of church, state and peers, but I frequently find myself enraged that someone can be so stupid!  At one stage during the book, Joanna is seperated from her husband and child. Sent to live in another household with no thought to the anguish this will cause. In fact, as far as her owners (and I shudder as I type that word. How can you own another human being??) are concerned, Joanna simply doesn't have those feelings.
Negroes don't feel love or sadness the way we do. They may give the appearance of true feeling, but they understand these sensations only in a brute, rudimentary way, such as a dog or horse might. What you see now is fear and stubbornness, as simple as that.
How could you or can you (as, unfortunately I know some people still do.) think like that? Just. Don't. Get. It!

I know this book is a work of fiction and in the scheme of slavery fiction, a fairly fluff piece at that, but I feel Chiaverini has done enough research to project a fairly accurate picture of one slaves life in those unbelievable times. Quite possibly my favourite Elm Creek book so far.