Hello Fellow Reading Fans!
How did your “1800s” reading go in April? Exciting? Interesting? A non-starter?
I struggled a bit to find something to read this month. I think the “1800s”, while full of many excellent titles, was a bit to broad. There was almost too much choice. A more defined time period, while limiting choices, would make it easier to find a real gem. In fact, I had decided I would re-watch some favorite Jane Austen movies, but at the last minute I found a book that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. That book was The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier.
Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman living in England in 1850, is jilted by her intended and decides, at the last minute, to join her sister who is immigrating to America to marry. The month-long Atlantic crossing is very difficult for Honor and further tragedy strikes during the journey to Ohio. Honor finds herself homesick, alone and struggling to find her place in a strange land.
America is very different from the England Honor grew up in; where England is settled and solid, America is raw and constantly changing. Survival is a constant struggle and comforts are meager. While people are kind, they are not particularly welcoming, absorbed in their own problems and struggles. And political tensions run high, often pitting neighbor against neighbor as the question of slavery begins to reach its boiling point – Honor has landed in a tiny settlement near Oberlin, Ohio, known as a safe stop for runaway slaves following the Underground Railroad.
Honor’s Quaker religion teaches her to despise slavery and she quickly begins helping the runaways that she encounters at her family’s farm. She soon learns that ideals can suffer in the harsh light of reality; her family forbids her from helping the runaways even though they agree with her views and new laws threaten hefty fines and imprisonment if defied. When a crisis is reached, Honor must decide between her beliefs and the law. Which path will she take and at what cost?
Much like Honor, this book is deceivably simple – a straightforward story line with a clearly drawn situation. But also like Honor, there is a lot of hidden depth here. How do you stand up for your beliefs against the majority? How do you battle loneliness and homesickness when you know you can never return home? How do you find purpose and meaning? There is a lot of rich imagery, of the beauty and harshness of nature, of the quilts Honor expertly sews and the differences from their English counterparts. I enjoyed the view of a mid-1800s life on what was essentially the frontier, and a glimpse of the Quaker religion, practices and principals. Throughout the book, Honor hangs on to the Quaker belief that “there is Light in everyone” even when people are at their worst; a lesson that has never gone out of style.
OK, now it’s your turn – what did you read this month? Let us know in the comments!