Saturday, October 7, 2017

Review: The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5079 KB
  • Print Length: 389 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0062313118
  • Publisher: William Morrow (Oct. 3 2017)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers CA
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01N9PTM35

Book Description

 The author of the celebrated bestseller A Land More Kind Than Home returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events, that chronicles an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, 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 others 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 she can find.

When the union leaflets first come through the mill, 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 lies, threats, and 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 whole story of what happened to 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 new novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.

Reviews from Others

“Wiley Cash reveals the dignity and humanity of people asking for a fair shot in an unfair world. Fraught with the turmoil of social change, The Last Ballad moves inexorably toward a devastating moment of reckoning. A timely and topical portrait of a community in crisis.” (Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train)

“Cash pulls no punches in this gorgeous, gut-wrenching novel, and that’s entirely as it should be for a story of desperate people. In an era when American workers are besieged as they haven’t been since the Great Depression, I can think of no more relevant novel for our times.” (Ben Fountain, Author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk on The Last Ballad)

“Beautifully and courageously told. Wiley Cash dares give voice to people lost in the margins of history, and he brings to life their inspiring fight for justice with graceful prose, honesty and intensity, and best of all, a wonderful bigness of heart.” (Lydia Peelle, author of The Midnight Cool on The Last Ballad)

“This suspenseful, moving novel is a story of struggle and personal sacrifice for the greater good that will resonate with readers of John Steinbeck or Ron Rash.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Inspired by the events of an actual textile-mill strike in 1929, Cash creates a vivid picture of one woman’s desperation. . . . A heartbreaking and beautifully written look at the real people involved in the labor movement.” (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

Wiley Cash is the New York Times best selling author of The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind than Home, and This Dark Road to Mercy (William Morrow/HarperCollins). He currently serves as the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and teaches in the Mountainview Low-Residency MFA. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and their two young daughters. Please visit to check the scheduled events for his book tour in the fall of 2017. 

My Review

 I have read both of Wiley Cash's previous books, This Dark Road to Mercy and A Land More Kind Than Home. They were both outstanding books.  I knew that The Last Ballad would not disappoint.

The Last Ballad shares the story of union organizing in 1920s in the United States with readers. It is told in alternating voices. My favorite chapter was the chapter where Kate brings Ella May home and visits there. The different voices and different views allow the story to tell itself. And what an enthralling story it is. I was mad; I was scared; and, sometimes I was crying. Most importantly, this book made me think.

What I really think is important and the message that people need to remember is that 100 years ago trade unions were born in the United States. It was not an easy fight and many of those who share in the benefits of that system now need to revisit the strife that brought about the unions and now a similar and equally important fight is being fought for universal medicare. The trade unions brought about the middle class and the decent wages the jobs in the mills, mines and factories now provided. The middle class is struggling to stay alive again. The fight is never easy. And Black people are still fighting for equal opportunities in the United States.

Wiley Cash brings history to life in The Last Ballad. The characters are all true to their race and social level. They all had amazing stories to tell.

I highly recommend this timely and beautifully written novel, The Last Ballad, by the brilliant storyteller Wiley Cash.

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