“An unforgettable story of female strength, hope and friendship. This collaborative work is magnificent—a true revelation!” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman with the Blue Star
“A brilliant story brimming with unexpected friendships and family ties. Historically sound and beautifully stitched, The Thread Collectors will stay with you long after the last page is turned.” —Sadeqa Johnson, international bestselling author of Yellow Wife
1863: In a small Creole cottage in New Orleans, an ingenious young Black woman named Stella embroiders intricate maps on repurposed cloth to help enslaved men flee and join the Union Army. Bound to a man who would kill her if he knew of her clandestine activities, Stella has to hide not only her efforts but her love for William, a Black soldier and a brilliant musician.
Meanwhile, in New York City, a Jewish woman stitches a quilt for her husband, who is stationed in Louisiana with the Union Army. Between abolitionist meetings, Lily rolls bandages and crafts quilts with her sewing circle for other soldiers, too, hoping for their safe return home. But when months go by without word from her husband, Lily resolves to make the perilous journey South to search for him.
As these two women risk everything for love and freedom during the brutal Civil War, their paths converge in New Orleans, where an unexpected encounter leads them to discover that even the most delicate threads have the capacity to save us. Loosely inspired by the authors’ family histories, this stunning novel will stay with readers for a long time.
You know how sometimes life just sneaks up on you and you lose track of something? That’s what’s happened with my review of The Thread Collectors. My deepest apologies! Because this book is far from forgettable. It’s an amazing testimony to what we’ll do for love and freedom.
The story unfolds from the perspectives of Stella, a Black slave whose love, William, has escaped from slavery, and Lily, a Jewish woman from New York whose husband, Jacob, has enlisted for the Union.
Stella was a slave, purchased by a white man as his mistress, to be used for his pleasure. She had very little to call her own. Lily was the daughter of a wealthy businessman in New York, with all the advantages the world had to offer. They seem as different as two people could possibly be. But Lily felt very strongly that slavery had to end, and she became involved with the abolitionist movement. These women’s lives and their fights for freedom intersected when the men who were important to them met up at a Union encampment in Louisiana.
Thread ties the lives of Stella and Lily together. Stella sewed a map to the Union camp for William before he left, using what cloth and thread she could come up with, both so that he’d have a guide as he fled his bondage and so that he’d have a piece of her to carry with him. She then continued to stitch maps for other slaves to find their way to freedom as well. Lily helped the war effort by rolling bandages and stitching quilts for the soldiers, with her first quilt made especially for Jacob, a tangible representation of her love for him.
Likewise, music is a unifying force for William and Jacob. William is a good musician, and that earned him a little bit better treatment than many slaves received. His master always wanted him to perform. Jacob is also musically inclined, and when he realizes William’s talent, he does his best to ensure that William has a chance to put his skills to use in the military.
This book is simply amazing. The research the authors put into it is apparent, and the events they convey are often heartbreaking. It’s loosely based on their own family histories, and quite a compelling tale. And this book really stands out because its viewpoint is different. I’ve read a fair bit of historical fiction, and I can’t say that I recall reading another story told from Black and Jewish viewpoints. That made this a story that really caught my attention and didn’t let go.
If you want a story that’s well researched, well written, and emotionally gripping, set in the latter days of the Civil War, you’ll love The Thread Collectors.
About the authors:
SHAUNNA J. EDWARDS has a BA in literature from Harvard College and a JD from NYU School of Law. A former corporate lawyer, she now works in diversity, equity and inclusion. She is a native Louisianian, raised in New Orleans, and currently lives in Harlem with her husband. The Thread Collectors is her first novel. Find her on Instagram, @shaunnajedwards.
ALYSON RICHMAN is the USA Today and #1 international bestselling author of several historical novels, including The Velvet Hours, The Garden of Letters, and The Lost Wife, which is currently in development for a major motion picture. Alyson graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in art history and Japanese studies. She is an accomplished painter and her novels combine her deep love of art, historical research, and travel. Alyson’s novels have been published in twenty-five languages and have reached bestseller lists both in the United States and abroad. She lives on Long Island with her husband and two children, where she is currently at work on her next novel. Find her on Instagram, @alysonrichman.