The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow
Source Books, 2014; 336 pp
Reviewed by Juliana Amir
The Forgotten Seamstress beautifully knits together the life of Maria Romano, a pre-World War II orphan, and Caroline Meadows, a modern day designer bent on solving the mystery of her unusual quilt.
Liz Trenow tells Maria’s side of the story inventively through old cassette tapes. Maria’s voice and use of language distinguishes her from any character I’ve read before. Her story comes to life as she convincingly tells us how she and her friend were selected from an orphanage to work as seamstresses in the Buckingham Palace. Maria is said to have had little to no education, but her life before the mental institutional was rich with experience, which comes across in her deep smoker’s voice:
“When you’ve been hidden away from real life for so many years, what else is there to do but remember the times when you were young, when you were meeting new people every day, when you were allowed to have feelings, when you were alive? Nothing. Except for me needlework and other creations, they were the only things that would give me a bit of comfort.”
Maria takes us through numerous gut-wrenching twists. It begins with an innocent infatuation with the Prince of Wales, and spirals into a life of joys and unspeakable hardships, all of which are reflected in the patterns of her quilt. Maria’s life’s work eventually falls into the hands of Caroline Meadows. I was so enraptured with Maria’s story that I found Caroline distracting. Caroline may be the main character as she is the one piecing together the scraps of Maria’s life, but she felt like a pallid backdrop to the show-stealing seamstress.
Even still, this book is a brilliant read as Trenow masterfully blends historic detail, drama, and the vulnerability of romance. I read Caroline’s sections quickly and Maria’s slowly, wanting to savor her each word, but together they reflect and reveal how human emotion is truly timeless.