In Chiaverini's latest offering, she delves into the story behind Sylvia Bergstrom Compson's treasured antique quilt that is known 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 travelled by the Underground Railroad to reach safe haven in 1859 at Elm Creek Farm. Now it falls to Sylvia -- drawing upon her Great-Aunt Gerda's diary and Joanna's quilt - to connect the past and present.
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 South Carolina, and through hardship and deprivation, she kept her dream of freedom. 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. 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.
The Lost Quilter is an engrossing novel that had me marvelling at Chiaverini's skill as a storyteller - and at Joanna's ingenuity - and appalled at the barbarity of the slave trade.
Rating - I give this 4/5
Reviewed by Jan @ Ballarat branch