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.
Listening and loving it!
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.
This one is quite boring in my opinion. It's not stirring any kind of emotion in me, it's just something to listen too, and compared to some of the other slave type stories it's just not very good.
Some what computer like
The long scene about quilting
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 love books, but I particularly love audio books. What a luxury to have someone like Campbell Scott read you to sleep.
I usually enjoy Tracy Chevalier's books but I kept waiting for the connection between the quilt making and the use of quilts as a code* used by the Underground Railroad to help slaves find their way to Canada and freedom. Here's a quote from Sarah Ives in a National Geographic article: "Two historians say African American slaves may have used a quilt code to navigate the Underground Railroad. Quilts with patterns named "wagon wheel," "tumbling blocks," and "bear's paw" appear to have contained secret messages that helped direct slaves to freedom, the pair claim." I wonder why this was not part of the story? It would have made for a much more compelling tale, and because this use of quilts and symbols are fairly well known, I would think other readers would have been waiting for the same thing.*Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad
Waiting for Chevalier to make the 'quilt code' part of the story.
Didn't enjoy the narration all that much and the use of 'thy' and 'thee'. We got it that they were Quakers and this was distracting. Maybe it worked in the book, but not as an audio book.
Probably not, unless screenwriters super charged it.
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.
If you enjoy endless descriptions of quilts and detailed descriptions of everything, you might like this book.
The characters were too stereotyped - the nearly perfect, meek and mild Hannah, the bawdy Belle with a heart of gold, the tempting bad boy. I was hoping for more underground railroad adventure, but this was rather dull and plodding. I liked the story well enough, but it seemed to drag, with way too much repetition of how wonderful Hannah was as a seamstress. It made Quakers seem dull and boring.
It was not clear at all why Hannah would be the least bit attracted to Donovan, so this could have been fleshed out more.
She seemed to use the same inflection on nearly every sentence, rising unnaturally at the end. It became annoying after awhile.
I don't think I would cut any scenes, necessarily, but I would eliminate some of the redundant descriptions.
A different narrator.
The main character Honor Bright Haymaker was not as strong as some of her other female characters in her other books. Honor was just a bit too whiney for me to enjoy this book.
Nothing. Every sentence sounded like it ended in a question. Her accent for Honor was not consistent. I almost didn't finish the book because of her narration.
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