Setting- Ohio, USA
Jilted by her fiance in England, Honor Bright, a Quaker woman, decides to accompany her sister Grace to America to help her adjust to hew life as a pioneer woman in rural Ohio. But then tragedy strikes, and Honor is faced with trying to find her own way in a strange and often hostile land.
Times are hard for people – and they are especially hard if you are a slave. When Honor meets such a person, she has a lot to learn. Setting this story of slavery and hard times in the Midwest enables Chevalier to beautifully evoke the landscape and the climate very well.
The setting becomes a character as she describes and illustrates the history and legacy of slavery and the people who suffer it. For example – What happens to those who appose or blatantly disobey the Fugitive Slave Act? What extremes do they have to go to in order to try and make things right? What happens if they get caught? And who is looking to catch them out?
The flavour of the American midwest is not only evoked by setting of course – the way of life and the social mores of the time are examined such as the difference between English quilting and the American way of doing it, recipes between the two countries, culture and much much more.
On hearing that this young girl is off to Ohio, a sailor on the crossing makes a comment –
Ohio! The sailor snorted. ‘ Sick to the coast, love. Don’t go nowhere you can’t smell the sea, that’s what I Say. You’ll get trapped out there in all them woods.’
On seeing a covered bridge for the first time-
The bridges crossing streams and rivers from her childhood were stone and humped. Honor had not though that something as fundamental as a bridge would be so different in America.
Although a fictional book, there is also a lot of historical fact and circumstance interwoven into the story – the lives and suffering of the Quakers was a particular subject I had little awareness of so this was interesting to me, the underground railroad system and the subject of immigration and well, when it boils down to one thing – a poor young girl miles from home and desperately trying to survive and make sense of the world around her.
History really does repeat itself in many ways when you think of it like that Chevalier takes us back there and lets you experience the world through Honor’s eyes. A treat for historical fans and for those who like a good plot with a strong setting as essential to the story.
For more on this novel and Tracy Chevalier’s writing, then take a horse driven carriage over to her website – http://www.tchevalier.com/