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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"The Last Runaway" by Tracy Chevalier ~ Poignant & Powerful


New York Times bestselling 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 bestselling 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.

Published by:  Penguin Group
Pages:  320
Genre:  Fiction/Historical Fiction
Purchase:  Barnes & Noble
Find out more here:  Tracy Chevalier


Tracy Chevalier first gained attention by imagining the answer to one of art history's small but intriguing questions: Who is the subject of Johannes Vermeer's painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring"?
It was a bold move on Chevalier's part to build a story around the somewhat mysterious 17th-century Dutch painter and his unassuming but luminous subject; but the author's purist approach helped set the tone. "I decided early on that I wanted [Girl] to be a simple story, simply told, and to imitate with words what Vermeer was doing with paint," Chevalier told her college's alumni magazine. "That may sound unbelievably pretentious, but I didn't mean it as 'I can do Vermeer in words.' I wanted to write it in a way that Vermeer would have painted: very simple lines, simple compositions, not a lot of clutter, and not a lot of superfluous characters."
Chevalier achieved her objective expertly, helped by the fact that she employed the famous Girl as narrator of the story. Sixteen-year-old Griet becomes a maid in Vermeer's tumultuous household, developing an apprentice relationship with the painter while drawing attention from other men and jealousy from women. Praise for the novel poured in: "Chevalier's exploration into the soul of this complex but naïve young woman is moving, and her depiction of 17th-century Delft is marvelously evocative," wrote the New York Times Book Review. The Wall Street Journal called it "vibrant and sumptuous."Girl with a Pearl Earring was not Chevalier's first exploration of the past. In The Virgin Blue, her U.K.-published first novel (due for a U.S. edition in 2003), her modern-day character Ella Turner goes back to 16th-century France in order to revisit her family history. As a result, she finds parallels between herself and a troubled ancestor -- a woman whose fate had been unknown until Ella discovers it. With 2001's Falling Angels, Chevalier -- a former reference book editor who began her fiction career by enrolling in the graduate writing program at University of East Anglia -- continued to tell stories of women in the past. But she has been open about the fact that compared to writing Girl with a Pearl Earring, the "nightmare" creating of her third novel was difficult and fraught with complications, even tears. The pressure of her previous success, coupled with a first draft that wasn't working out, made Chevalier want to abandon the effort altogether. Then, reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible led Chevalier to change her approach. "[Kingsolver] did such a fantastic job using different voices and I thought, with Falling Angels, I've told it in the wrong way," Chevalier told Bookpage magazine. "I wanted it to have lots of perspective." With that, Chevalier began a rewrite of her tale about two families in the first decade of 20th-century London. With more than ten narrators (some more prominent than others), Falling Angels has perspective in spades and lots to maintain interest over its relatively brief span: a marriage in trouble, a girlhood friendship born at Highgate Cemetery, a woman's introduction to the suffragette movement. A spirited, fast-paced story, Falling Angels again earned critical praise. "This moving, bittersweet book flaunts Chevalier's gift for creating complex characters and an engaging plot," Book magazine concluded.
Chevalier continues to pursue her fascination with art and history in her fourth novel, on which she is currently at work. According to Oberlin Alumni Magazine, she is basing the book on the Lady and the Unicorn medieval tapestries that hang in Paris's Cluny Museum.

Book Trailer:

It is such a pleasure to read and review a really good book.  Tracy Chevalier's "The Last Runaway" was just that...a very good book.  I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.  It was completely engaging from the start and I found myself missing the characters when I would put the book away to do housework or errands.  This is one of those books I would absolutely have no problem recommending to everyone.
Chevalier is a master storyteller.  The plot is driven by her fabulous cast of characters.  These are characters that wedge themselves deep in your heart and psyche.  I was smitten from the start with the "bad boy" of the novel,  Donovan, for instance.  I'm sorry...he was just too juicy a creation even though he was a villain. But, each and every one of her people are truly remarkable in their own right.
I loved her main protagonist, Honor Bright for her innocence, her courage and her needle working skills.  Chevalier showed intimate understanding of the meditative quality of needlework and fixed that into her character.  She was able to convey the serenity Honor maintained through this medium, as well as her other Quaker ways.   Honor's growth as a young woman in the wilds of a new America comes full circle as we read, bringing such depth to her personality.
The human conflicts in the novel are masterfully composed.  I thought the situations involving slaves and the Underground Railroad were richly captured.  Ms Chevalier is a wonder at conveying personal interactions and tragedies throughout the book.  I had a gut reaction several times to things that happened to Honor.
This is a book that should appeal to many across the board whether you like contemporary fiction, historicals or a bit of suspense.  I had a hard time leaving the book at the end.  No doubt another best seller for Tracy Chevalier...
5 stars           Deborah/TheBookishDame




I love historical sagas! Fantastic review!

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