Reading this book is a little bit like viewing history through a kaleidoscope; as you turn the wheel, the colors shift slightly to make a different picture, but one that is made up of the same elements as the one before. Bartels writes vividly across three storylines, each taking place in a different time. The three time periods (1861-75, 1963-7, and modern time) blend and separate as each tell a story about racism and family.
Mary unwittingly and then wholeheartedly opens her home to escaping slaves during the Civil War. Her granddaughter Nora must face the realities of racism when she falls in love with and marries a black photographer. Elizabeth, Nora's great-niece, and an aspiring journalist, thinks she's found the story of a lifetime when she's given a camera to return to this aunt she's never met. The story of each woman echoes the others as they search for the truth of themselves, their family, and its history.
Because there is a generation missing between Mary and Nora, and between Nora and Elizabeth, some of the past remains hidden, and Bartels avoids several opportunities to wrap everything up with a neat bow. Usually, loose ends at the end of a book make me crazy, but Bartels demonstrates her gifts as a writer by making even this seem like a natural part of the story.