from Page 91: “Her father had proven to them all when a beating heart stopped, there was no black or white, only blood-red.”
John Brown, the white abolitionist who led the raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), is the father of one of the main characters in this book. John Brown was hung on December 2, 1859, as the raid was a failure and his actions and beliefs were a threat to the pro-slavery South. This book is an historic novel based on the Brown family and one of his many children, Sarah Brown, a talented artist.
Two tales intertwine, one chapter at a time. One is set in the 1850-1860s. The next chapter is set in the current day. The chapters see-saw between these two periods, between two women, set over 150 years apart.
John Brown harbors runaway slaves in their Plattsburg, New York home as the slaves are heading towards Canada. Sarah has had a devastating diagnosis that leaves her unable to have children. In those days, that probably also meant that she would never marry. She wanted to have a life with meaning despite this huge disappointment. Sarah Brown was an artist and, at an early age, she discovered her father hiding slaves from plantations in their home. Her father knew she could draw. In order to communicate to ones who could not read or who could not decipher directions, Sarah was able to use her talent to serve the Underground Railroad, first through the help of her father. With the hanging death of her father in 1859, Sarah took her heart’s desire to aid the runaway slaves and the Underground Railroad as her own. By drawing and painting maps, Sarah Brown helped the slaves to understand where the safe stations were on the UGRR and how to get there.
Eden and Jack move into a house once used by the Underground Railroad. As the history of the house gradually becomes evident, the lives of Eden and Sarah become interwoven like warp and woof by commonalities, i.e., children (inability to conceive/not having any), desire to be a part of something larger than themselves, loss, disappointments, and love.
Sarah McCoy has done extensive research of the slave code quilts and the use of these on the UGRR, the Underground Railroad itself, the methods of hiding runaway slaves as they made their way north to Canada, the maps used to guide these slaves (drawn within a painting, even on the heads of dolls). It is a well-crafted novel, filled with history (although the author admits in the Prologue that she took a writers’ privilege to change some things in order to fit her story).
All in all, it was a good story, well worth the reading. And a satisfying read!
Sarah McCoy was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, the daughter of an Army officer from Oklahoma and a Puerto Rican elementary school teacher. She moved often as military families do, but they were stationed in Virginia for fourteen years so Sarah calls Virginia home, and Puerto Rico, where her grandparents and extended family live, her home-home.
She “is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel,” featured in the anthology Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.
“Sarah’s work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso.”
Sarah lives with her husband, an Army physician in El Paso, Texas. Her online presence can be found at http://sarahmccoy.com/
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group (a subsidiary of Random House)
Publication Date: 05/05/2015
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d