Happy belated release to this great work of historical fiction!
Thanks to William Morrow for the copy in exchange for my honest review.
THE LAST BALLAD by Wiley Cash (released October 3rd, 2017)
My Thoughts: 5/5 stars!
I hadn’t read any of Wiley Cash’s books before picking up THE LAST BALLAD. I’ll definitely have to go back and read his other books – this one is so beautifully written on such a raw and violent topic. This work of historical fiction depicts a time in history when one woman helped fight for the rights and safety of workers everywhere.
Set in 1929, in a small mill town at the foothills of the Appalachians in North Carolina, this was inspired by true events. We follow 28 year old Ella May Wiggins. Twelve times a week she makes the two mile walk to and from her job – she works the night shift at the American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City. Since her husband, John, has run off on her again, it is up to her to make a living to keep her children fed. The mill’s owners have decided to pay the workers less because they work alongside African Americans in the dangerous and hazardous textile mill – so that means Ella May is only bringing in $9 a week for her 72 hours of hard labor.
When she hears about the union and their demands from the mill owners, Ella May feels a tiny bit of hope. She makes the decision to help the union fight the mill – even if it meant risking everything she had and everyone she loved. We get to see the events unfold that lead to the Loray Mill Strike in 1929 and how Ella May became a focal point in organizing the union.
There is a second part to this novel – fast forward 75 years to her oldest child, Lilly. She’s telling her nephew about his grandmother and how she transformed her life. Through this portion of the story, the reader is brought through the life of Ella May that lead up to the mill strike in 1929.
I loved this book. Despite how violent some of the events were, Wiley Cash still wrote this beautifully. It’s drops you right into the time period and the atmosphere is so well described. He brings these characters to life and does a fantastic job bringing the reader along for the journey in this work of historical fiction. I know not many people are fans of historical fiction, but this does not read like a history lesson.
Overall, this novel was incredibly moving and raw. It made me go back and look up how the events unfolded for the Loray Mill Strike, and I was amazed at how real the story felt. I would highly recommend this to anyone that loves historical fiction. The characters and writing alone will pull in anyone.
Have you read either of his other books?