The Stolen House of Light

Susan Estall

Published by River Pearl Press, 2009
ISBN 10: 0982048823 / ISBN 13: 9780982048825
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Synopsis: When Sarah and Linnea decide to save an old house and have it moved on wheels, little do they realize the full significance of the historic house. Linnea buys the 1853 house for one dollar after she learns it was part of the Underground Railroad and at risk of being torn down. The two friends and a good house mover plan to relocate the house just outside the town of Havener , Illinois . Sarah willingly helps Linnea get a house for a dollar, even though Sarah never owned a house and during her childhood was homeless with her mother after her father dies. She coped as a child by having an imaginary house, which later figures into the story. Sarah and Linnea meet their match in Tyler , who is married to Sarah, as he uses his own imaginative skills to right the wrongs of her homeless past. Nothing goes as planned in this story with unusual twists and turns. Neither Sarah nor Linnea realize that Tyler is involved in his own house plans. Ultimately they learn about forgiveness, and about the goodwill of strangers because of Garrett, a newspaper reporter. They all learn about the history of the Underground Railroad from the older couple, Leroy and Binnie, who mentor Sarah and encourage her. Sarah begins to know about her own heritage, which is American and Bengali. This novel pays tribute to house movers and the houses they move and includes a detailed house move in the story. Also included is a fictional diary regarding the Underground Railroad which pays tribute to the courage of people who persevered in escaping from slavery. Preservation and green issues are part of the story, along with house moving history about which few people know, such as an entire town with one hundred and eighty buildings that were moved, on wheels, primarily during the 1920s. Everyone loves a house move on wheels, and readers will enjoy this novel with unusual twists and turns. Written in a gentle style with a hopeful message, this imaginative story demonstrates the good will, ingenuity, and complexities of American culture.

Review: Stolen House Steals Affections. The author, Susan Estall succeeded wonderfully well in writing a unique and finely constructed plot with her lucid poetic prose. Her main characters are Sarah and Linnea, more than friends and less than sisters, having shared an upbringing in Linnea's family home. Previously Sarah had spent part of her childhood wandering homeless in America with her unstable mother after her Bengali father died. The action begins when as adults the women have married and each has a daughter, and both mothers are passionate about the preservation of homes, especially homes with history. Both women are financially strapped and in need of a home of their own. When a couple retires to Florida, their 1853 home, once a station on the Underground Railroad, becomes available for $1.00. Unless it is moved, it will be torn down. The question is which woman will take advantage of this rare opportunity? Will it be Sarah, whose homeless background gives her an emotional priority, or Linnea, who recently experienced the death of her beloved husband? Sarah selflessly defers to Linnea, an act which infuriates her husband, Tyler. His focus is getting his family a house on a nearby inherited property whose existence he keeps as a surprise from his wife. As a result of his love for Sarah, he commits a crime that, once uncovered, causes a severe but temporary rupture in the friendship between Sarah and Linnea.

Skillfully embedded in the story is the information about the technical details of house moving, its history, and the green movement it aids. Estall knows first hand since she and her family bought a house for $1.00 and had it moved to Main Street in Downers Grove. Readers also learn about the Underground Railroad. In one of the most moving parts of the story, a diary left in the contested home shows the feeling of compassion in the wife who provides shelter to people escaping slavery. Sarah's own mixed heredity and the presence of a racially mixed couple further suggest the need for inclusion and a respect for diversity. Reflecting her career as a family therapist, Estall has also written a powerful description of Linnea working through her grief, long delayed after her husband s death and reignited by a further loss. To end, in a book that celebrates house movers and history, the reader will gain the lessons of history and of the heart, with the satisfaction of a story well told. --Christine Myles

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Title: The Stolen House of Light
Publisher: River Pearl Press
Publication Date: 2009
Book Condition: very good

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