Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Last Runaway

Another good read from Tracy Chevalier, an author who can be counted on for an excellent story - well written, with varied and interesting characters, and accurate historical setting and details.

In The Last Runaway the setting is Ohio from 1850-1852. Honor Bright, the main character, is a 20 year old Quaker woman who travels from England to Ohio. She leaves England distressed at the end of her relationship and planned marriage. She faces hardships on the voyage and arrives in Ohio alone and uncertain of her future. The story is told through narrative about Honor and through her letters home to England.

There are many elements of interest in this easy to read and not long novel. Slavery and the underground railroad are a primary focus.   The way of life of Quakers and their principles is another major focus. Among the other elements of interest: strong woman characters in very difficult circumstances, life in rural Ohio, quilting and millinery work, marriage and childbirth.

The differences between life in a small town in England and small town and rural Ohio life add further to the novel. One example, is the scene in which Heather eats fresh corn for the first time: "Honor ducked her head and studied the ear of corn, each kernel like a translucent tooth....Honor hesitated. 'I have never eaten it on the cob.' ... Honor closed her eyes and bit down...Then she couldn't stop, and bit all the way up and down the cob until it was bare."

This is the first American historical fiction work by Tracy Chevalier. She knows the details about which she has written. The Ohio setting is in the area where she (and I ) attended college.  She has  attended a Quaker camp and been to Quaker meetings. She took up quilting as part of her research for The Last Runaway.  

Her website provides further insights into the book and its background.

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