The Last Ballad: A Novel
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Description

Winner of the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction

Named a Best Book of 2017 by the Chicago Public Library and the American Library Association

"Wiley Cash reveals the dignity and humanity of people asking for a fair shot in an unfair world."

- Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train

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.

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Street Date:
10/03/2017
Language:
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ISBN:
9780062313133
ASIN:
B01N9PTM35
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        Wiley Cash is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home. A native of North Carolina, he has held residency positions at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. He and his wife live in Wilmington, North Carolina.

      • name: Wiley Cash
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The Last Ballad
fullDescription

Winner of the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction

Named a Best Book of 2017 by the Chicago Public Library and the American Library Association

"Wiley Cash reveals the dignity and humanity of people asking for a fair shot in an unfair world."

- Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train

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.

reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: New York Times Book Review
      • content: "A powerful book that speaks to contemporary concerns through historical injustice... Cash vividly blends the archival with the imaginative... With care and steadiness, (Cash) has pulled from the wreckage of the past a lost moment of Southern progressivism. Perhaps fiction can help us bear the burden of Southern history."
      • premium: False
      • source: Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train
      • content: "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: Ben Fountain, Author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk on The Last Ballad
      • content: "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kirkus Reviews
      • content: "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: Shelf Awareness
      • content: "Told with grace and compassion, The Last Ballad is an enthralling narrative and a powerful reminder of the immense sacrifices made for workers in the United States."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Guardian (UK)
      • content: "Elegantly and movingly woven ... The Last Ballad is simultaneously the evocation of an exemplary individual and the portrait of an era."
      • premium: False
      • source: Lydia Peelle, author of The Midnight Cool on The Last Ballad
      • content: "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: Publishers Weekly
      • content: "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."
      • premium: False
      • source: Greensboro News & Record
      • content: "Beautifully and evocatively written, The Last Ballad should take a place on the honor roll of Southern fiction that will stand the test of time... Cash deftly builds the suspense and tension about what will happen, and why and when... One powerful and haunting story."
      • premium: False
      • source: Charleston Post & Courier
      • content: "Cash honors his subjects... in his telling of their bravery at the forefront of societal and economic changes that would in time reshape our American lives. But Cash's tale is foremost a cautionary one, a reminder of just how precarious liberties are... Heartrending."
      • premium: False
      • source: Louisiana Book News
      • content: "Resonates with pain, love, the struggle of life and the gross injustices of the world. I hated leaving Ella May's world, reveled in watching her bravery against unspeakable odds and her unending support of racial equality... A riveting story."
      • premium: False
      • source: Charlotte Observer
      • content: "With his vibrant imagination, vigorous research, and his architectural skill in structuring this novel, Wiley Cash has lifted the events of the past into the present and immortalized a time that holds valuable lessons for our country today."
      • premium: False
      • source: BookPage.com
      • content: "Wiley Cash's third novel is a sweeping, old-fashioned saga with an inspirational but ill-fated heroine at its center... Ella May is such a rich, sympathetic character... Powerful and moving, exploring complex historical issues that are still with us today."
      • premium: False
      • source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
      • content: "This is the very best kind of historical novel... Cash is a fine and subtle writer, who tells an American story ... replete with personal, political, sexual, racial and class strife, yet redeemed by gritty individual and community faith in a better, fairer world."
      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        May 1, 2017

        Having won us over with the darkly lyrical A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy, best sellers and award winners both, Cash takes us South again as he draws inspiration from the life of Ella May Wiggins, a workers' rights activist murdered in 1929 Gastonia, NC. Ella May, who works for a pittance at the local textile mill to support her four children after her husband runs off, makes the fateful decision to join the union the mill's owners so angrily denounce as Bolshevism. Decades later, her daughter relates the awful consequences. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

        Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        August 28, 2017
        Cash (A Land More Kind than Home) transports readers into the world of real-life ballad singer Ella May Wiggins, a central figure in workers’ battle for unionization in North Carolina textile mills, who was shot and killed on Sept. 14, 1929. Alone, pregnant, caring for six sick children, and frightened of losing her job if she takes another day off, Ella uses her Sunday to hitch a ride to a union gathering. Quickly recognized for her courage after fighting off anti-union attackers, she’s asked to share a song with the crowd: “We leave our homes in the morning,/ We kiss our children good-bye./ While we slave for the bosses,/ Our children scream and cry.” Her message connects, and she instantly becomes a sensation. With this unlikely platform and her unexpected power, Ella May attempts to integrate unions across North Carolina mills, attracting the wrath of union busters, segregationists, and the powerful wealthy class. 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.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        August 15, 2017
        Inspired by the events of an actual textile-mill strike in 1929, Cash (This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014, etc.) creates a vivid picture of one woman's desperation.Ella May Wiggins works long, grueling hours in a mill, but it still isn't enough to keep her children fed. The year is 1929, and fed-up workers are fighting for rights like a standard wage, a five-day work week, and equal pay for equal work. Ella's curiosity about the union leads her to attend a rally in a neighboring town, but when she gets up on stage to sing a song that she wrote, she becomes an unexpected star of the labor movement. Her prominence makes her a target for those who view union members as communists, and Ella's belief that African-Americans should be included in the union places her in even more danger. But Ella's voice isn't the only one Cash explores--there are multiple points of view, including Ella's now-elderly daughter Lilly, an African-American porter named Hampton, and several others whose lives intersect with Ella's. Cash vividly illustrates the difficulties of Ella's life; her exhaustion and desperation leap off the page. She faces extreme hardship in her fight for workers' rights, but it's always clear that she keeps going because of her love for her children. Although it is initially a bit difficult to keep so many points of view straight, it is satisfying to see them all connect. It's refreshing that Cash highlights the struggles of often forgotten heroes and shows how crucial women and African-Americans were in the fight for workers' rights. A heartbreaking and beautifully written look at the real people involved in the labor movement.

        COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Winner of the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction

Named a Best Book of 2017 by the Chicago Public Library and the American Library Association

"Wiley Cash reveals the dignity and humanity of people asking for a fair shot in an unfair world."

- Christina Baker Kline, author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train

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...

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HarperCollins