Tracy Chevalier

Honor Bright

This is how I imagine the main character, a young English Quaker who emigrates to America in 1850.

Oberlin, Ohio

This town was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Always a radical place, Oberlin College was the first to admit women and African Americans.

The Sick Room

Many 19th-century American houses had “sick rooms” off the kitchen because someone often had a fever and needed tending. This one is at Hale’s Farm, Ohio.

Desperate measures for desperate times

Henry "Box" Brown was a slave who mailed himself to freedom.

Tracy’s quilt

In researching the novel, I learned how to quilt the way my heroine would have, and made this all by hand.

Quakers have no formal creed.

Their unity is based on shared understanding of the "Inner Light" in each person and a shared practice of silent worship.

O Magazine, January 2013

“...emotionally riveting...portrays a pre-Civil War America full of contradictions, personified by a heroine facing the kinds of major moral challenges in her life that are playing out on a grand scale in her adopted country.”

Tracy Chevalier calls her first historical novel set in the United States “my love letter home.” Actually, Chevalier, who lives in London and is best known for the international best-seller Girl with a Pearl Earring, has accomplished something less sweetly sentimental but even more emotionally riveting: The Last Runaway (Dutton) portrays a pre-Civil War America full of contradictions, personified by a heroine facing the kinds of major moral challenges in her life that are playing out on a grand scale in her adopted country. Honor Bright ends up stranded in 1850 Ohio when the adventurous sister she has accompanied from England dies soon after their arrival. She finds everything in the Midwest foreign – from the patterns used in quilting to the “quality of the sunlight...yellower and fiercer.” Then there is the specter of slavery, which, as a Quaker, Honor is horrified by. In spite of this, she is drawn to a slave hunter whose sister hides fugitives via the Underground Railroad. But after finally settling down with a farmer with whom she expects to lead a safe, simple life, Honor herself becomes involved in aiding fleeing slaves, which poses increasingly complicated ethical choices. The protagonist’s vividly human individuality makes the author’s pitch-perfect set piece about our nation’s (ongoing) growing pains irresistible.

--Liza Nelson

 

The Last Runaway