cover image THE RUNAWAY QUILT: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel

THE RUNAWAY QUILT: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel

Jennifer Chiaverini, . . Simon & Schuster, $21 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-2226-6

Chiaverini's fourth offering in her Elm Creek Quilts series weaves a modern-day family mystery around a pre–Civil War tale of bravery, deception and the Underground Railroad. Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, proprietress of Elm Creek Quilts and a quilter's retreat, is the sole heir and last descendant of Anneke and Hans Bergstrom, German immigrants who settled in Creek's Crossing, Pa., after Hans won Elm Creek Farm in a horse race. Or is Sylvia the only one left? After a speaking engagement at a quilter's guild in South Carolina, a woman named Margaret Alden shows Sylvia a family heirloom quilt with a map of Elm Creek Manor recreated in the stitches. Do Margaret and Sylvia share a distant relative (heretofore unknown to Sylvia) who moved to South Carolina? Or did a slave of one of Margaret's ancestors make it? This thought disturbs Sylvia deeply. She believes her forebears were staunch abolitionists who were active in the Underground Railroad, aiding escaping slaves in their journeys to Canada and freedom by using quilts as maps pointing the route to safe houses. A journal written by Hans's sister Gerda and discovered in an attic trunk reveals the family secrets and the story of Joanna, a pregnant runaway who is sheltered from slave catchers by the Bergstroms and who almost becomes their undoing. Readers unfamiliar with the series may be confused trying to keep the peripheral contemporary characters straight, but the story of Anneke, Hans and Gerda Bergstrom is compelling enough to warrant sticking with Sylvia as she ferrets out the true history of Elm Creek Farm. Chiaverini manages to impart a healthy dollop of history in a folksy style, while raising moral questions in a suspenseful narrative. (Apr.)