The Book of Lost Friends

Ballantine. Apr. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9781984819888. $28. F
After the Civil War, the Southern Christian Advocate, a newspaper for the African American community distributed throughout the South, included a column called “Lost Friends” that allowed individuals to advertise for information about missing loved ones, generally sold off or stolen before or during the war. That column is the inspiration for this enthralling and ultimately heartening new novel from Wingate (Before We Were Yours). Though it can take a moment to catch on, the two intertwined narratives eventually speak back and forth, with the first delivered by Hannie Gossett, a resourceful young sharecropper in 1875 Louisiana, who’s looking for her own people when she follows her former master’s imperious daughter and equally imperious mixed-race daughter (an open secret from New Orleans) as they trek to Texas to find their father and papers relating to their inheritance. The second narrator is Benny Silva, an outsider new teacher in small-town 1987 Louisiana, pushy enough to get her students involved in a project that discovers and reconstructs Hannie’s story and its wider implications for their town.
VERDICT Emphasizing throughout that stories matter and should never go untold, Wingate has written an absorbing historical for many readers.
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