#FridayBookShare ~ The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier @ShelleyWilson72

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 #FridayBookShare is a game created by Shelley Wilson to help search for an ideal read.

Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on the book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favourite line/scene.

The Last Runaway by Tracy  Chevalier

First Line   She could not go back.  When Honor Bright abruptly announced to her family that she would accompany her sister Grace to America- she thought: I can always come back.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb

When modest Quaker Honor Bright sails from Bristol with her sister, she is fleeing heartache for a new life in America, far from home. But tragedy leaves her alone and vulnerable, torn between two worlds and dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Life in 1850s Ohio is precarious and unsentimental. The sun is too hot, the thunderstorms too violent, the snow too deep. The roads are spattered with mud and spit. The woods are home to skunks and porcupines and raccoons. They also shelter slaves escaping north to freedom.

Should Honor hide runaways from the ruthless men who hunt them down? The Quaker community she has joined may oppose slavery in principle, but does it have the courage to help her defy the law? As she struggles to find her place and her voice, Honor must decide what she is willing to risk for her beliefs.

Set in the tangled forests and sunlit cornfields of Ohio, Tracy Chevalier’s vivid novel is the story of bad men and spirited women, surprising marriages and unlikely friendships, and the remarkable power of defiance.

Introduce the main character – Honor is modest and brave but, an outsider.

Delightful Design

last-runaway

Audience appeal   This book is very difficult to pigeonhole.  If you are interested in the role of women in the history of the American settlers and would like to know more about how runaway slaves were helped to escape to Canada then you must read this book.

Your favourite line/scene

The one thing I am truly valued for here is my sewing and quilting.  Judith has handed over all of the sewing and I have happily taken it.  At several of the frolics I have been asked to quilt the centre panel, as that is the one most noticed on a bed.

I am now working on a quilt for Dorcas to replace one of those she gave me for my marriage.  Judith told Dorcas to let me decide what is best.  In that one area, then, I am my own mistress.

I expect by now Mother will have asked thee for the Star of Bethlehem quilt I gave thee before leaving for America.  I was ashamed to have to ask for it back, but I know my dearest friend will understand.  Circumstances have led me to marry much sooner than expected, and I was not ready, in terms of quilts – and other ways too.

If you want to join in, then answer the F.R.I.D.A.Y questions and use the Friday Book Share meme. Tag Shelley (@ShelleyWilson72) in, so she can read what you have added, too.

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The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw

Harmony

I came to this book with memories of travelling through Malaya during the 1960s when it was very different to the modern Kuala Lumpur of today.  The miles and miles of rubber plantations, occasionally interrupted by small kampongs, were very atmospheric and so I was ready to be disappointed by a modern writer’s attempt to recreate the country in the 1940s.  But this was not what happened.

This is the story of Johnny Lim, a successful business man with a dubious background. It is told from different viewpoints but it is the “voice” whom we learn about rather than the enigmatic subject, Johnny.  The first storyteller, Johnny’s son Jasper, purports to give us an accurate account of his father’s life.  In fact it proves to be the biased narration of a resentful son, which though giving us the bare bones of Johnny’s history tells us nothing about his character.

Next we move to the “beautiful” Snow Soong.  Names are significant in this novel.  Snow is cool, unapproachable and self-centred. This section of the book is so much her story that we learn very little about the feelings and emotions of the other characters.  She describes incidents on Seven Maiden Islands which are pivotal to all their lives (and death) but are deliberately veiled in mystery.

Finally the flamboyant, sexually ambivalent Peter Wormwood gives us a clearer picture of Johnny’s true nature and what happened on that strange ill-fated “honeymoon” trip.  He saw depths in Johnny, which others missed and perhaps suggests that Johnny was a victim of his environment and experiences.  But really the book isn’t specifically about Johnny.  It is about relationships made all the more interesting by the juxtaposition of characters from very different cultural backgrounds; Peter, the aesthete, Johnny, the poor victim of colonial rule, Snow the aristocratic cultured woman and Mamoru Kunichika, an intellectual, ruthless man.

The date chosen for the denouement, 1941, just prior to the fall of Malaya under Japanese rule is perfect, intensifying the atmosphere of impending doom and the end, for some, of their time of parties and pleasure.  Nothing will ever be the same again for any of the people there.

Tash Aw gives us deliberate red herrings such as Jasper’s remark that he looks like a Japanese prince.  He makes Jasper’s account read like careful research and we see Snow, at first, as a tragic, mistreated woman.  Snow describes Mamoru as a cultured gentleman so that it seems impossible to imagine that he was also “the Demon of Kampar”.  Johnny’s remark that, “Death erases all traces, all memories of lives that once existed, completely and for ever,” is obviously completely untrue.

I loved the little details of life in Malaya, such as the Chinese funeral where paper offerings of a Mercedes and a Boeing 747 were burnt and the way Batik material was considered inferior to silk.

Despite having very little empathy with any of the characters I found the gradual revelation of their story fascinating not least because so much was left unanswered.

Children of the Plantation by Faith Mortimer

Plantation

I appear to be reading the Diana Rivers Mysteries in the wrong order since I started with number two and have just read number six but that doesn’t matter at all as each book is complete in itself with the mystery solved by novelist “Diana Rivers”.

However in “Children of the Plantation” Diana takes a back seat for most of the storyline, reading about a murder, which took place many years before, through the diaries of two members of a family.  This novel is set in a hotel near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where Diana and her husband have gone for a relaxing holiday.  Originally the hotel was a house belonging to Sir Winston Chalcot who ran a rubber plantation and his daughter still lives there.  Miss Chalcot gives Diana the diary of Sir Winston’s wife Eleanor and that of their child Alex, asking her to put them together into an accurate family history which would, “put things straight.”

Lady Eleanor’s diary introduce her as a dreamy, unhappy woman in the early 1950s travelling back to England on her own, leaving her two daughters, without telling her husband that she is pregnant.  During the voyage she meets forthright, independent Hermione, who is to become a major part of Eleanor’s life.

Diana moves on to the diary of Alex in the 1960s when he, his mother and Aunt Hermione are back in Malaya with Sir Winston and his two daughters Emma and Felicity.  Alex has an awkward relationship with siblings Emma and Felicity but regularly goes out riding with them.  Sir Winston trusts the running of the rubber estate to a young local man, Paul Tan, whom Emma and Felicity find attractive despite his being outside their social circle.  Alex spies on everyone including Paul and his sisters but as Paul trains him to run the estate they become close.

The diaries are written as narrative which seems strange but allows the reader to become fully involved.  As Diana Rivers is pregnant she does not take an active part in investigating the disaster which occurred in the Chalcot household but realising that she is, “waking a sleeping dragon,” she figures out something of what has happened.  I was just beginning to guess the twist at the end as I reached it, but it was a successful surprise, as all the clues were subtle.

I very much enjoyed this step back into mid-20th century history and the atmosphere Faith has created is reminiscent of L.P. Hartley’s “The Go-Between”.  Her description of the tropical environment reminded me of travelling through Malaya to visit Fraser’s Hill when I was a child in the 1960s.  This peaceful setting contrasts well with the undercurrent of fear and danger both in local politics and the story’s plot.

The Hour Before Dawn By Sara MacDonald

Hour

The Hour Before Dawn is the story of two generations which is told in the details of traumatic events in 1976 and the present day.  Unusually there are two heroines in this novel, Fleur Montrose and her estranged daughter Nikki.  The two women have been torn apart by a mysterious tragedy in Malaysia when Nikki was 5, as well as the early loss of Fleur’s husband, Nikki’s father David.

The story also goes back to 1966 when 15 year old, Fleur met army officer, David in Singapore.  For me, having lived in Singapore at this time, this part of the tale didn’t ring true, but later scenes, particularly of Malaysia, reminded me of the sights and smells and the contrast between busy towns and the peace of the beach houses at Port Dickson.

Fleur’s flawed relationship, both with her mother and her daughter seem to stem from her selfish, single-minded behaviour but later it becomes evident that she has concealed a troubling secret to protect her family.  In addition they have to cope with the mysterious disappearance of Nikki’s twin sister Saffie in 1976 and Fleur’s remarriage after her first husband’s death.

Now a widow once more and writing a dissertation as a mature student, Fleur sets out for New Zealand on a trail of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s architecture.  She intends to stay with her daughter Nikki, who is expecting a baby with partner Jack.  But Fleur does not turn up.  She has disappeared while stopping over at Singapore.  Reluctantly Nikki and Jack set out to look for Fleur.  In Singapore they meet Inspector Mockter who discovers that Fleur has taken a train and bus to Port Dickson in Malaysia, the place where Saffie was last seen.

In the course of the story we eventually come to understand what happened to Saffie and why Fleur behaved oddly.  Inspector Mockter has a special rapport with Nikki which helps her to cope with an impossible situation, while heavily pregnant.

Sara MacDonald is a talented writer.  She deals with complex family relationships and their breakdown very effectively.  There is a strong sense of place in Port Dickson and the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.  There are a few editing issues, especially with the spelling of places in Singapore but I am just being picky since they don’t affect the content of a tremendous story of loss and hope.