Top critical review
4 people found this helpful
Works well on a number of levels
on 6 November 2013
This is not, I have to admit, vintage Chevalier. That said, it is a first class evocation of life in mid 19th century Ohio, where the winters are bitter, the summers are suffocating,and the struggle to survive is relentless. This is overlaid by a rather suffocatingly introspective society where faith and family are intertwined and you cannot shun one without shunning the other.
Honor Bright, a gentle Quaker girl fleeing a failed engagement, leaves rural England with her sister to journey to the New World in search of a new life. The sea voyage itself is horrendous, and her sister is en route to marry a virtual stranger in an alien environment. Events, however, spiral out of control and Honor is left very much to her own devices in the Quaker society to which she truly belongs in many ways, but where she is not entirely secure emotionally. She is helped and befriended by a rather more free thinking woman who is involved in the Underground Railway, assisting escaped slaves to run to Canada and freedom. This activity touches her heart and she helps as much as she can, although the need for secrecy compromises her simple faith which forbids lying.
The family into which she herself marries are horrified by the risks she is taking: there is a slave hunter in the area who could make life very, very difficult for them.
In the background, the traditional female activity of quilting provides continuity, and with its repetitive patterns, rhythms, shapes and colours, conforms to set boundaries, which reinforce the societal norms.
Honor shares her deepest feelings and inner life in letters back to her oldest friend in England, but ultimately her destiny is now in this new country in which poor slaves are not the only "runaways". The book ends with Honor embracing yet more change, but this time as a stronger and more complete person who has been challenged and not found wanting.
The sense of time and place is very strong and Honor is an engaging heroine.