This book had so many layers to it that I’m still unpacking it two days after I’ve finished it. Unusual for me in that once I close the cover (or kindle) for the last time, it’s on to the next. I think I’ll sit here with this one for awhile.
Wildly appropriate for the times we are living in, The Book of Lost Friends is the simultaneous, but different era stories of Hannie Gossett, a freewoman working on her former plantation after the Civil War, and Benny Silva, a newly minted secondary school teacher in 1987, trying to motivate her students, themselves possible descendants of Hannie’s 19th century world. Augustine, Louisiana is the starting and ending point to both of their stories.
The title comes from a collection of newspaper advertisements from the late 1800’s, where former enslaved people wrote to find lost relatives, sold away from their families or lost in the Civil War. Hannie finds herself trying to save her adopted family’s crop sharing deed, hard won after 10 years work, and in so doing embarks on an adventure to Texas with Lavinia (the daughter of her former owners) and Juneau Jane, Lavinia’s illegitimate Creole half sister. Along the way, Hannie realizes that her family may be out there, somewhere, and instead of returning home among the dangers of the Reconstruction South, presses on. She and Juneau Jane collect Lost Friend advertisements from the people they meet promising to publish them if they can.
Benny, an English teacher at the town high school in 1987, stumbles upon the old plantation house with a library full of books she feels can motivate her students. With the help of the present owner, she begins a project which not only brings history to life, but does the same for her students as well. Tensions arise among town residents who would rather keep Augustine’s history buried. Benny has to find a way to get past this without losing everything she’s worked for. I wont go into much more detail than this. In the end, various threads (some of which you didn’t even realize existed) are, for the most part, neatly tied up. As you are reading, pay special attention to the advertisements at each chapter’s beginning. The author’s use of these advertisements is her way of bringing the message of the book home. It’s very effective.
The Book Of Lost Friends is another gem from Lisa Wingate. Timely, sad, infuriating and uplifting all at the same time, it’s a window into an era of our history almost forgotten. It’s also a reminder that there is still a lot of work left to do. And as Benny discovered, it’s left to us to do it.