In the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina, a young mother desperately tries to hold her family together when she joins a union to reclaim her dignity and rights. - (Baker & Taylor)
"The eagerly awaited next novel from the author of the New York Times bestselling A Land More Kind Than Home about a young mother desperately trying to hold her family together in the years before the Great Depression, a haunting and moving story of cowardice, courage and sacrifice"-- - (Baker & Taylor)
Inspired by actual events, a tale set in the Appalachian foothills of 1929 North Carolina follows the struggles of an ordinary woman to reclaim her dignity and rights in a labor mill, where she earns a paltry salary before risking her family and future to join a union. 100,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)
Named a Best Book of 2017 by the Chicago Public Library
“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.
Library Journal Reviews
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.
Library Journal Reviews
This third novel from a promising young voice in Southern fiction (A Land More Kind Than Home) concerns a North Carolina woman's fight for workers' rights. By 1929, 28-year-old Ella May Wiggins has had four children, the eldest of whom watches the others while their mother works nights at American Mill No. 2 as a spinner, and a husband who disappeared shortly after a fifth child died in infancy. Hearing of a rally in nearby Gastonia advocating a minimum wage and a 40-hour workweek, Ella May sees no choice but to attend. When asked to speak about mill conditions, she instead delivers a moving song of her own creation, becoming the face of the union struggle—and a target for anti-Communists. As in his previous books, Cash uses various voices from different periods to tell his story, here including a mill owner, a train porter, and Ella May's elderly daughter reflecting on her mother's complicated legacy in 2005. He writes with earnestness and great sympathy but reveals the outcome early, taking the bite out of the story's climax. VERDICT Admirers of Ron Rash's Serena and its Appalachian setting will find much to like here. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/17.]—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ
Copyright 2017 Library Journal.