*Lisa Wingate. The Book of Lost Friends. A Novel.
Read by Sophie Amoss, Bahni Turpin, with Lisa Flanagan, Dominic Hoffman, Sullivan Jones, Robin Miles, and Lisa Wingate.
12 CDs. 15 hrs.
Random House Audio. 2020.
This outstanding audiobook juxtaposes two time periods in the ongoing story of the Gossett family, from their failing Augustine, Louisiana plantation during the Reconstruction period immediately after the Civil War to mid-1980's Augustine, a town committed to preserving boundaries and keeping its secrets.
In 1875, Hannie Gossett, a freed slave, sets out with her former owner's two daughters, Missy Lavinia, born of William Gossett's wife Maud, and Juneau Jane, born of his New Orleans Creole mistress, to find our what happened to her former master, to locate his lawyer who had his will, and to try retrieve the deed to Hannie's land holding promised to her with her freedom. The three young women set out with Hannie, dressed as a boy, driving their wagon, leading their perilous search. Associates of Gossett capture and terrorize the two white girls. Although they manage to escape, Missy Lavinia has been raped, becomes permanently mentally deranged. As the search continues, they take refuge in a small country church where they discover "The Book of Lost Friends," a newspaper that records messages from former slaves who now seek lost family members. This book especially touches Hannie, who was separated from her family mother and her many siblings early in her life. She takes the book and throughout the journey she, with Juneau Jane's help writing, records the names and messages of those they meet. The trio follow Gossett's trail into Texas with many harrowing adventures on the way. Hannie meets several helpmates along the way – Gus, another freed slave headed to Texas to become a cattle rancher and Elam, a US marshal, who saves them multiple times.
In the 1987 town of Augustine, Benedetta ("Benny") Silva comes to town to teach English to students with few skills and less ambition. She learns that the old Gossett mansion has a magnificent library that she wants to make available to her students. In order to do that, she cultivates the acquaintance of Nathan Gossett, current owner of the house, although he rejects participation in the Gossett family affairs. When teaching Animal Farm proves impossible, Benny, recruits "Granny T," a well-known, elderly town resident who tells the story of her slave ancestors to Benny's students -- thus beginning the "underground project." The students research the life histories of town residents in old newspapers at the town library and prepare individual presentations for a program to be held in the old town slave cemetery. Resistance from the town is immediate.
Will the presentation ever take place? How does the students' research relate to the adventures of Hannie and the other two women? What is the secret that prevents Benny from opening up to Nathan? This audiobook is fascinating in its interweaving of all the threads of past and present.
Lisa Wingate, who also authored Before We Were Yours, focuses in both books on family, the interrelationships between family members, and the ways in which families find each other and stay together. Although seven narrators relate the story, the listener doesn't know which characters are being represented by each. However, their voices blend and give credence to the wide cast of characters, social station, historical period, and individual personalities of the characters.
Wingate's novel encourages listeners to reflect on the problems during Reconstruction of slaves trying to find their families and build new lives, while former slave owners either had to admit or bury the actions of their slave-owning lives, and search, themselves, for a different way of life. Needless to say, Reconstruction was a period rife with turmoil, resentment, violence, and prejudice.
This excellent audiobook will appeal to those teens and adults with an interest in historical novels, the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, family stories, adventures, and strong female characters. It may take some listeners a bit of time to get into the story because of the two time periods and many characters, but is well worth the effort.
Reviewed by Susan Allison