British author Trenow (The Last Telegram, 2013) methodically intertwines the lives of two women who live a century apart in a complex and poignant novel.
With understated eloquence and compassion, the author breathes life into the story of Maria Romano, a naïve young seamstress who’s spirited away from her job at Buckingham Palace to spend years of her life confined to a mental hospital. An orphan with exceptional needlework skills, Maria is pressed into royal service in 1911, when she's barely a teenager, and falls in love with Prince Edward, the eldest son of King George V and Queen Mary. Maria can’t believe her good fortune when he singles her out for attention—but then she gets pregnant. The young girl is scared but relieved when the housekeeper tells her she’ll be taken care of, and she’s instructed to gather her bag and get into a carriage. Maria packs up all her worldly possessions, including the beginnings of a patchwork quilt she’s pieced together from scraps of fabric she lifted from a palace cupboard, and assumes she’s being taken somewhere safe to await the birth of her infant. Rather than a regular hospital, however, she’s confined to a mental institution where she hazily recalls giving birth but is told her child died. As the reality of her situation sinks in, Maria attempts to run away, fails and retreats into her own soundless world until a volunteer's encouragement rekindles her interest in stitchery. After 50 years of institutionalization, Maria's childhood friend finds her and arranges for Maria to live in her home—and in 1970, Maria's story is preserved by a student interviewing ex-patients of the mental facility for a research project. Years later, Caroline Meadows struggles with a recent breakup, termination from her banking job and her mother’s descent into dementia as she cleans out the family home. Inside a suitcase, she finds a beautiful patchwork quilt once promised to her by her grandmother, and she’s compelled to explore the quilt’s origins. As Caroline uncovers its secrets, she discovers the threads that bind her to Maria, begins to understand the meaning of home and summons the courage to consider new directions in her life.
Weaving together Caroline's and Maria’s journeys, Trenow meticulously stitches each piece of this engrossing story into a unified—and heartwarming—whole.