The Book of Lost Friends – by Lisa Wingate – Independent Book Review – Historical Fiction (U.S.)

THE BOOK OF LOST FRIENDS is a family saga about black and white relationships and connections in post Civil War America, that also connects with people living in the same area a hundred years later. Extremely engaging! Awarded four stars on Goodreads.

What ties everyone together is their connection to an old plantation at Goswood Grove in the small town of Augustine, Louisiana:

• One storyline takes place during the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877). Slavery has ended, though the lives of former enslaved people have changed little. With vastly different motivations, three brave women from Goswood Grove embark on a challenging trip to the Texas frontier, to find some important legal papers relating to the heir to the property. They are NOT friends, though they have longstanding ties. Can three women alone travel safely over such a long distance? How can they know who among the many people they encounter can be trusted? Do they have the smarts to even get to their destination? And how will their relationships with one another evolve?

• A second storyline involves young teacher Benedeta Silva, just beginning her teaching career in a very poor, small town public school with few resources and distinctly unmotivated students. Can she figure out a way to engage them in their school work? Would accessing the vast library at Goswood Grove help? Can she expect, as an outsider, to ever be accepted into this tightly knit society of haves and have nots? And why is there such resistance to her enthusiasm around helping her students?

I have written in other reviews about my annoyance at what I consider a much overused device in contemporary historical fiction — i.e. authors writing multiple storylines from different time periods, and then scattering the chapters throughout the novel, only connecting them at the very end. So often, the technique seems to do little more than add confusion and make both stories more difficult to follow. But this is one novel where Lisa Wingate skillfully employs that very device. AND it makes sense.

Lisa Wingate

Her two story threads are easy to follow and clearly connected by the US history of slavery, which continues to impact all of us today. Central to that connection is a fascinating publication I knew nothing about before reading this book — the “lost friends” ads that were placed in a Methodist newspaper, The Southwestern Christian Advocate. For decades, placing ads in this publication (which were then read aloud around the country during church services) was one of the only ways former enslaved people had to try to locate family members who had been sold off years before, during the period of slavery. And actual excerpts that the author sprinkles throughout this novel are both dramatic and powerful, offering a glimpse into the pain and desperation so many Black Americans experienced.

More about the author, Lisa Wingate.

You may be interested in my review of another historical novel by Lisa Wingate – the bestseller, Before We Were Yours.

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