Martin's Must Reads: 'The Book of Lost Friends'

Feb 9, 2021

“In their heyday, the 'Lost Friends' ads, published in the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a Methodist newspaper, went out to nearly five hundred preachers, eight hundred post offices, and more than four thousand subscription holders. The column header requested that pastors read the contents from their pulpits to spread the word of those seeking the missing.”

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads." The ads, sent by former slaves in an attempt to find family members, was what triggered Lisa Wingate to write her novel The Book of Lost Friends. The chapters alternate between 1887 with 19 year old Hannie Gossett, a former slave and 1987 with Benny Silva a first year high school English teacher.

After the Emancipation, Hannie has continued to work at the Louisiana plantation where she had been enslaved with her mother and siblings before they were sold and scattered across the country. For ten years she has yearned to find her family.

As the story progresses she rescues the white daughters of the family who owned her from a kidnapping attempt, and helps them search for their missing father. Resting from their travels, they  hide out in a church where they discover the "Lost Friends" ads which paper the church walls.  They transcribe the names into a book and add to it as they meet others looking for their lost family members.

In 1987 Silva’s teaching job is at a depressed high school in the same Louisiana town as the plantation. In her efforts to reach her unruly students she comes up with a project for them to research the family histories of their town.

If you’re looking for a well written book of heartbreak and hope, then you must read The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate.