The Runaway Quilt – A book review

I just finished listening to this wonderful book on tape.  Jennifer Chiaverini has a series of books based on the Elm Creek Quilter’s Retreat in Pennsylvania.  Her books are typically character driven.  Learning about the Bergstrom’s and their friends and family are definitely the center of all the stories.

This book includes the tail of Gerda Bergstrom and her brother Hans who came over from Germany shortly before the Civil War.  When she landed she met her brother on the docks thinking they were going to Kansas.  Instead, it turns out he won a farm after a horse race, the farm which was named Elm Creek.  They also meet a young lady, Anneka, on the docks who was supposed to meet her new husband who never showed up.  So together they pack up and leave for their new home.  Anneka and Hans marry and the three of them settle and start raising horses and a family.  However, Hans and Gerda have strong feelings of the injustice of slavery and through a chance meeting one night with a runaway slave, they become a key part of the Underground Railroad in this area. 

This book is strong on character development, as the current Bergstrom, Sylvia, reads Gerda’s journal which she found in the attic.  As Sylvia learns about her ancestors, she also learns more about herself and what she thought she knew about her ancestors.  Although the ending is bittersweet for the Bergstroms and though there is no clear answer to the mystery, that is what happens during war and it gives the book a real ring of truth.

This is the fourth book in this series.  Sylvia, the main character in the series, is the last American descendant of the Bergstrom’s and has returned to Elm Creek to turn it into a quilter’s retreat.  The descriptions of the classes, the type of quilt patterns, and the history of quilt-making are a real treat to read.  The thought that quilt patterns may have been used to describe stops on the Railroad is also an interesting premise.

I definitely recommend trying it out.  This book could  be read alone, although reading the first book in the series would definitely help you to understand some of the characters who are briefly mentioned here.