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Chekov & Chattanooga Influence Sybil Baker’s Novel ‘While You Were Gone’


Sybil Baker’s While You Were Gone is the story of three sisters dealing with their father's death and uncovering secrets about him and other relatives who have passed away. They grow up in a large house on beautiful Missionary Ridge overlooking Chattanooga, and their extended family is part of the city's upper class. But the sisters feel shunned, and slowly learn why their family is fractured.

Local readers will recognize many landmarks: the Walnut Street Bridge, Lamar's, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga—where Baker teaches creative writing and humanities.

Inspired by Chekov’s play Three Sisters, Baker’s newest novel is a Southern story about prejudice, privilege, parents, and more.

As a lifelong Chattanoogan, I appreciated how the novel realistically wove in local geography and history—who else remembers when JJ’s Bohemia used to be The Chameleon?—and especially recommend it to new residents and out-of-town readers. If you know the city only because of the Choo-Choo or its Civil War history, this story will take you beyond those well-trod train tracks and battlefields.

The book launch takes place this evening at 6:30 at Star Line Books, and Baker will participate in the Chattanooga Readers and Writers Fair on Saturday.

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