New York Times best-selling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier, makes her first fictional foray into the American past in The Last Runaway, bringing to life the Underground Railroad and illuminating the principles, passions and realities that fueled this extraordinary freedom movement.
In New York Times best-selling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.
Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.
However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.
A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history.
©2013 Tracy Chevalier (P)2013 Penguin Audio
I like a good historical fiction novel, and this one was an enjoyable listen. However, it was a bit thin at times. I also found the way in which race was dealt with in the novel a little problematic. Despite Chevalier's (sometimes awkward) attempts to give black characters agency, we were still left with a novel about white heroes in relation to slavery. Tracy Chevalier really was trying hard to do something a little more complex I think, but it just doesn't come out right. Sometimes listening to the discussions of race I felt uncomfortable.
I trusted the author's reputation on this purchase. That plus an interest in the workings of the underground railroad. I found it rather boring. I kept listening with one ear so to speak since much was uninteresting to me. There is a lot, really a lot, of quilt making discussions. Some of the reactions of the English girl to life in America in 1850 are interesting, like how rude rocking chairs may seem. Runaway slaves do not appear until the last 1/2 hour of part one. The treatment of the issue I found mildly interesting.
I've read (and loved) a few of Tracy Chevalier's books, and this was the first one I've read (or listened to) that is set outside Europe. The story is told from the heroine's point of view, which is similar to other Chevalier books. A lot of the action of the story is presented through letters, which have the effect of advancing the story line rapidly, but which (for me) distanced me from the story. As a result, I never developed as much empathy as I wanted to for the heroine.
Ms. Chevalier's choice of setting, in southwestern Ohio, near the town of Wilberforce, was somewhat odd from my point of view. Since the college was founded for African American students by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was located in a racially mixed community, I found it odd that there was only one continuing black character in the story. It seemed to me that Ms. Chevalier missed the opportunity to take advantage of the setting she selected. Also, having read a lot about the underground railroad and the period in which the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, I found it unlikely that so many runaway slaves were seen during daylight, even in Ohio. The story is similar to The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini, down to its emphasis on quilts. Overall, I was somewhat disappointed by the book.
yogini, knitter, quilter, sewist, stitcher, reader, cook, foodie, wine snob, francophile, wife, dog mom, SF Giants fan
I did truly enjoy this book, though I did occasionally find the narration a bit annoying (unexpected pauses, shifting/inconsistent accents, male voices not as realistic and an uplift at the ends of declaratory sentences) and there were a couple of plot points that seemed out of character for Honor.
That being said, as a quilter and armchair historian of American slavery I found the subject matter, characters and overall storytelling engrossing and I am sure I will listen to it again. It is a quick listen and a very welcome escape on my commute. I especially enjoyed the quilting bits, which seemed very natural/appropriate to the plot and were accurately rendered (a huge pet peeve of mine is supposedly crafty fiction that is hardly crafty at all or just pasted on). If you like quilts or quilting, I think you will appreciate this book.
Though Honor is the main character, she is supported by two great characters in particular: Belle and Mrs. Reed, both of whom give dimension to the story and a bit of a reality check to Honor when required.
I was engaged by the story of Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman from England in the 1850s who hastily decided to accompany her sister who was traveling to the US to be married. We learn that Honor's engagement had been broken in a difficult way (in her faith).
This is not the type of book I would usually read - historical with a promise of romance, but I was intrigued by Honor and the unexpected troubles and difficult decisions she made after her sister died before reaching her fiancé.
Themes of personal faith, community, slavery, individuality drew me in, and I cared for a few of the characters and how they would find their place and peace among it all.
It may be that some would see Honor as a simple (in spirit and life) woman, but I believed she was a strong woman who was guided by her moral and spiritual beliefs, even when it set her apart from "the plain folk". I admired her tremendously and believed her to be stronger than most in the community did.
It was a pleasant, easy read, and I did find it thought provoking as I considered what I would do in her situation.
I was very disappointed in the narration though. It was quite inconsistent with the narrator not always using the same "voice" for the same characters. She also had a distracting habit of pausing in a peculiar pattern. It took about 3 hours for me to finally decide I'd keep listening because I was enjoying the story, and therefore I needed to try to just accept the narration as was.
The question of self interest vs the greater good is always interesting. Being put inside the Quaker dilemma at the time of slavery and the underground railway gave a more intimate view to the issue.
This was a fascinating story which wove together a young Quaker woman's experience in America in the early 1850s, the underground railroad and the art of quilting.
I do not like this narrator very much but the story was good enough to overcome that.
I've read several books by Tracy Chevalier and this is my least favorite. It is fairly shallow, given the fact that the subject matter could have lent itself to much more depth. Chevalier's previous books which factionalized artistic subjects were much more intriguing. There was an opportunity to do more with the quilt code, the historic relationship of the Amish to the Underground Railroad, and even the role of the women who put their lives and marriages on the line to help runaway slaves.
Perhaps the reason this book felt so shallow to me was the affected performance of Kate Reading. After a couple of chapters, I nearly gave up, but persevered, only to discover that the narrator never lost the affected tone and irritating habit of ending every sentence with an upward tilt to the voice like a question.
The book was historically accurate, gave a very vivid look into early American life in the (now midwest) region of the US. The story was a little on the bland side. I have read some of Chevalier's other novels and this one was almost like an intro to a possibly more in depth and fleshed out novel.
The plot was very simple and the characters were pretty basic. It touched on the underground railroad but only towards the end and in a very basic, textbook, learned in high school manner. I was not wowed by the read and didn't really come across anything I didn't already know.
I personally think it focused too heavily on her being a Quaker, quilts and getting married than anything else. I understand these are important aspects of a woman's life at this time in history but if that is the plot then an entire fictional account is not necessary.
I guessed it before it happened, pretty predictable. A small twist but for the most part very clean cut and laid out as expected.
She has a strong English accent (from an American point of view) but she did the old Southern accents, different English accents, men and women's voices and the basic slave/freed black men and women accents very well. I always enjoy when the reader makes an effort to give life to each character by giving them a voice and mannerism that reading a book to yourself is unable to do.
Haha it inspired me to learn how to make frontier style fruit leather! I also would love to learn how to can and pickle some fruits and veggies this summer.
I like Chevalier's books noverl (esp. the Virgin Blue), they are calming and not too intense which is sometimes what I need to get through a hectic week!
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