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Book Review: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Book Review: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Author’s Blurb

The stunning new novel from the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring. Honor Bright is a sheltered Quaker who has rarely ventured out of 1850s Dorset when she impulsively emigrates to America. Opposed to the slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family. In this tough, unsentimental place, where whisky bottles sit alongside quilts, Honor befriends two spirited women who will teach her how to turn ideas into actions.

Review by Hazel Barker

The Last Runaway is a fast-paced enjoyable historical novel, and a perfect mix of page-turning plot and characters. The book imparts a succinct and informed account of the underground railway and of the lifestyle of Quakers during the 1850s. It is an emotion-packed novel of homesickness, grief and guilt, written in a taut, lucid style.

The book depicts the struggle between good and evil and reveals the weaknesses and strength of human nature.The author delves into the main characters’ minds and gives a sense of the intrigue, deep loyalties and hatred of each character. Honor Bright jeopardizes her marriage for the sake of her convictions, a milliner forgets herself to help others, and an ex-slave risks her own freedom to rescue her children from slavery. Jack Haymaker is long-suffering and patient; his patience and forgiveness are much to be admired. Even the antagonist Donovan has some redeeming points.

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Excerpt from ‘Telegraph’, UK

Telegraph.co.uk
Touching letters from WW2 soldier to his pacifist brother
One was a pacifist whose principles prevented him fighting in the Second World War, the other signed up took part in the gruelling campaigns to push the Germans out of North Africa and then Italy.

A letter from Douglas to Clarence Dover dated Sept 1 1943.
Now, letters between two brothers have emerged, almost 70 years after the conflict ended.
The correspondence was sent from Douglas Dover, serving in the Royal Army Service Corps, to his older brother Clarence, who had joined the Friends Ambulance Unit, a Quaker-run organisation with whom he was stationed in China.
The letters show the closeness of the pair, despite their different beliefs. Douglas, a driver, recounts his experiences in the heat of Africa coming under attack from the Germans, and then as his unit advances through Italy.
He described seeing an eruption of Vesuvius as “a marvellous sight with a column of smoke miles high with the base a mass of fire” and referred to Naples as “a city now famous for racketeers and filth.”
The brothers’ mother Ada died of a heart attack while both sons were overseas. Douglas wrote: “I know it will be a shock to you, I cannot believe it yet, or rather I can’t take it in yet. We lost the one who we all loved so much.”
When Douglas was granted a period of leave, in August 1945, he told his brother: “Only one thing is missing and that is that you will not be there, but maybe will we be together soon.”
On his arrival back home in Nottingham, he sent another letter telling Clarence: “Nottingham looks very much the same as when we left, but the girls seem to have lost all sense of moral control.”
The letters continue until May 1946, when Douglas was about to return to Nottingham again. The collection ends with the line: “Well C, I will not make this a very long one. For the folks do not know I’m coming … cheerio for now, my next letter will most likely be from home.”
Douglas died in 1989 and Clarence in 2001. The letters were found by Clarence’s daughter June Cobley, 61, from Beeston, Nottinghamshire. She said: “I am really proud of my dad for refusing to fight. I could not have done that at the age of 20.
“We never quite knew what his family’s reaction was at the time but I have a letter from his mother in which she said she was standing by him.
“She wrote to him: ‘I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that you have laboured for the benefit of peace’.
“My father did not talk about it much. In some ways, I think he was braver not to fight because of the pressure that was on him.”

See: The Chocolate Soldier: story of a conchie by Hazel Barker. Story based on Clarence Dover during World War Two.

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