The Book of Lost Friends
Hannie Gossett is an eighteen-year old freed slave. In 1875 she finds herself caught up in the affairs of the Gossett family, on whose land she was born into slavery, and on a dangerous journey from Augustine, Louisiana to Texas. It’s on this journey that Hannie learns about the Lost Friends: advertisements placed in the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a Methodist newspaper, where families separated though the cruelty of slavery tried to reconnect. These stories of missing family members were read in pulpits across the South, and although Hannie’s tale of family separation is fictional, Wingate includes poignant real examples of these historical documents throughout the novel.
Hannie’s search also ties into the other timeline of The Book of Lost Friends, set in 1987. This is the story of a new, young English teacher, Benny Silva, who takes a job at Augustine’s public school. It’s a run-down, under-funded institution where racial inequality, poverty and social challenges mean Benny faces an uphill task to engage her students. To do so, she will need the help of Nathan Gossett and the books and historical documents hidden in the deserted old plantation house that has been in the Gossett family for generations.
In alternating chapters, Wingate does an excellent job of pulling the reader in to each story and each set of characters. The two narratives dovetail effectively and create a compelling story which subtly highlights the racial disparity in opportunities for Americans – in both timelines. Hannie’s story is fictional, but in The Book of Lost Friends, Wingate highlights a real and often tragic aspect of slavery and sends a message that we should all learn from the past. “Stories change people,” Benny tells us. “History, real history, helps people understand each other, see each other from the inside out.”