From Ms. Chiaverini's website:
Elizabeth Keckley made her professional reputation in Washington, D. C., making expertly fashioned dresses for the city’s elite, among them Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mrs. Robert E. Lee. In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose her from among numerous applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible for creating the First Lady’s beautiful gowns and dressing her for important occasions. In this role, Elizabeth Keckley was quickly drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, a clear-eyed but compassionate witness to events within the private quarters of the White House.
This book is vastly different from the more light hearted books I have read by Jennifer Chiaverini. Her thorough research into the time period is reflected abundantly throughout the novel. She captures the essence of her main character Ms. Keckley perfectly.
In a question and answer with Ms. Jennifer Chiaverini:
Your New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series has frequently drawn on history to great acclaim, and your passion for the American people, their struggles and triumphs, shines through. What is it about the antebellum and Civil War eras, especially, that intrigues you as a writer?
The antebellum and Civil War eras were a tumultuous and transformative time for our nation, showing the best and worst of humanity in stark contrast. Looking back, we discover great moral failings alongside true heroism in the struggle for justice, equality, and freedom. My personal heroes are people who face adversity with moral courage and dignity, whose hunger for justice and compassion for others lead them to stand up for what is right even at great risk to themselves. My favorite characters to write about either possess similar qualities, or are given the opportunity to summon up these qualities and do what is right but fall short. What slavery, the Underground Railroad, secession, and the Civil War say about our country—that we are capable of both great moral failings and tremendous goodness—resonates strongly even today, perhaps especially today, and as a creative person, I am drawn to explore and try to understand that conflict.
I found the novel compelling enough to keep coming back to and am frankly thrilled that Ms. Chiaverini can write with such a different hand compared to her other novels.
This is a book I would certainly recommend to quilters and to those that like a good novel.