Monday, September 14, 2020

The Book of Lost Friends

Title:  The Book of Lost Friends
Author:  Lisa Wingate
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2020. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1984819887 / 978-1984819888

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A single ladybug lands featherlight on the teacher's finger, clings there, a living gemstone."

Favorite Quote:  "I'm trying to impress upon my students that everyone has a history. Just because we're not always happy with what's true doesn't mean we shouldn't know it. It's how we learn. It's how we do better in the future. Hopefully, anyway."

The "lost friends" is a historical reference to loved ones and friends lost to slavery. The term was used by the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a newspaper published out of New Orleans, Louisiana, for the African American community from 1877 to 1929. The newspaper was a project the Methodist Church. The "Lost Friends" was a section that published letters from people searching from loved ones in the hopes that it would reach them or someone who knew of them.

"'I have written all of them' She shows me her work, while I look down in wonder. 'These pages, by the beginning letter of the surname.' She turns to a page with R, which is a letter I know, there at the top, she reads off, 'Amalee August Rain.' I sit down beside her and she gives it over to me, an I turn through all the pages. 'I'll be,' I whisper. 'A book of lost friends.'"

As I contemplate the history, I am horrified and saddened beyond measure that such letters or such lists were made necessary in this nation that was built upon tenets of equality and freedom. It saddens me that conversations for and the word toward equity still continues today. We have not reached that goal. This specific aspect of history - the letters, some of which are reprinted in this book - will stay with me for a long time to come.

The book tells this story through Hannie Gossett in the aftermath of the Civil War and Benedetta in the 1980s. The story begins in Louisiana. Benedetta has come to be an English teacher in a small school. The school embodies the inequities that permeate the US school system. Benedetta sets out to capture her students imagination and teach them through their own history. Hannie's story is an integral part of the history of Augustine, Louisiana. She is slave who loses her entire family as the South grapples with the Civil War and the thought of emancipation. Hannie's family is lost through the actions of - ripped apart one person at a time in the trading of humans. Now, she is supposedly free, a sharecropper on the very farm where she and her family were slaves.

Hannie's voice takes a little getting used to, but this quiet book pulls me and does not let go even after the last page. I turn the page looking for more of what happens to Hannie. The book comes alive and leaves me with a visual and emotional picture of the time and the place.

Benedetta's story, in its own way, draws me in. I find myself relating to her relationship with books. "Books made me believe that smart girls who didn't necessarily fit in with the popular crowd could be the ones to solve mysteries, rescue people in distress, ferret out international criminals, fly spaceships to distant planets, take up arms and fight battles... Books made me feel beautiful when I wasn't. Capable when I couldn't be. Books built my identity." I also find myself sharing her struggle with how to best be an ally to her students.

The final chapter of the book somewhat comes out of nowhere in Benedetta's story. Yet, it leaves behind an important lesson as does the rest of the book. "We all have scars. It's when you're honest about them that you find the people who will love you in spite of your nicks and dents. Perhaps even because of them. The people who don't. These people aren't the ones for you."

Most of all, I appreciate this book for the sad history it leads me to research further in nonfiction sources. The challenge and struggle of that history continue on.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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