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The Last Ballad

The Last Ballad Book Cover The Last Ballad
Wiley Cash
William Morrow
October 3, 2017
Advanced readers copy
Free from publisher

The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events. The chronicle of an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood. Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find. When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves. Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929. Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early twentieth-century America—and pays tribute to the thousands of heroic women and men who risked their lives to win basic rights for all workers. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.

My review:

This book was a huge hit with me! I've read Wiley Cash's previous two novels and enjoyed them very much (my review of A Land More Kind than Home is here), but this one is in a class of its own! Fascinating look at small town life in and around the Appalachian foothills of NC, and the process of setting up a union at the towns labor mills. This story is inspired by real people and events, but doesn't hit you over the head with historical facts, instead it reads as a beautiful story. Cash does such a phenomenal job of creating the settings, writing such wonderful prose, and the characters are fabulously fleshed out. I ached for these small town folk and their plight, and I learned so much history without realizing that's what I was even doing 🙂 This book is a timely exploration into race, blue collar factory jobs, communism, the labor movement, and big business. Did I mention the writing? Fabulous, that's all I can say.

A lovely, lyrical, heartbreaking, historical fiction account of the labor movement of 1929. With a protagonist that I will not soon forget for her courage and bravery in helping those who followed her, and for fighting for a cause she believed in. Kudos to Mr. Cash for a spectacularly written book that I highly suggest you read!

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