Title: The Book of Lost Friends
Author: Lisa Wingate
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publishing Date: April 7, 2020
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Length: 352 Pages
About the Book:
A new novel inspired by historical events: a story of three young women on a journey in search of family amidst the destruction of the post-Civil War South, and of a modern-day teacher who rediscovers their story and its connection to her own students’ lives.
Lisa Wingate brings to life stories from actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold off.
Louisiana, 1875 In the tumultuous aftermath of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now-destitute plantation; Juneau Jane, her illegitimate free-born Creole half-sister; and Hannie, Lavinia’s former slave. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following dangerous roads rife with ruthless vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and eight siblings before slavery’s end, the pilgrimage westward reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the seemingly limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.
Louisiana, 1987 For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt–until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, seems suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled oaks and run-down plantation homes lies the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.
Oh my goodness, I have so many wonderful thoughts towards this one that I hardly know where to begin. Lisa Wingate has written herself another masterful must-read! She wrote right to the heart of a historical fiction admirer, and created a story worthy of affirming what it is that makes history so vital. One quote that has etched itself into my mind is: “We die once when the last breath leaves our bodies. We die a second time when the last person speaks our name.” Even if a historical fiction piece is not based on a specific real-life person, it’s (hopefully) rooted in truth from the time period is describes, and is a way to keep history alive from generation to generation.
One of my favorite themes in this novel was remembering history whether it was good or bad. It’s easier for us to focus on the good things and pretend like the bad never happened, but if we are to learn from our mistakes and be able to fully appreciate our pasts, we have to take the bad with the good. For Hannie, if slavery was to be washed away as if it never happened, her entire family tree would be forgotten as if they’d never existed. The hardships they’d endured would be swept under the rug. In a way it felt like reading this story was a cry for her life to not be erased.
I liked how the author used the contemporary timeline to appeal to not only the students in Benny’s class, but the reader themselves. She had entered a school where it was very obvious that life was rough for many of the kids. Seeking a way to reach them, she came up with a plan to personalize history for them and to make it more real and tangible. She encouraged them to find out about their own family histories and how some of them even tied together. She didn’t just teach them about history, but helped feed an appreciation of it. Oh, how this whole idea just gripped my heart and made me love this story a gazillion times more <3
I guarantee this one will be making my favorites list this year. Absolutely masterful. I highly recommend this to all of my historical fiction friends. I’m sure that despite the sadness that is also found within, it will also bring a smile to your face.
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley. Thoughts and opinions expressed are mine alone.