So excited to be apart of this tour! This was a book that I loved last year when it originally released and I couldn’t wait to share it again with you for the paperback release.
Thanks to William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for the free copy in exchange for my honest review 🙂
THE LAST BALLAD – Wiley Cash (out now in hardcover and paperback)
This book is what made me go back and grab is other books, and I found myself a new auto-buy author!
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. Thechronicle 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 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.
About the Author:
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.
Where to Purchase a Copy: