The Last Ballad
By: Wiley Cash
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: 10/3/2017
My Rating: 4 Stars (ARC) Audiobook Narrated by Karen White and Elizabeth Wiley 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.
A special thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewers and William Morrow for an early reading copy. Also purchased audiobook narrated by Karen White and Elizabeth Wiley. Review to follow.
“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)
“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)
“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)
“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.” (Charlotte Observer)
“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.” (BookPage.com)
About the Author
photo by Tiffany B. Davis
Wiley Cash is The New York Times best-selling author of A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME and THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY, which are both available from William Morrow/HarperCollinsPublishers. A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME appeared on The New York Times bestsellers list in hardcover, paperback, and e-book. The New York Times also named it an Editor's Choice and a Notable Book of 2012. The novel was included on best of 2012 lists by Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Books-a-Million, and many others. A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME won the Southern Independent Bookseller Ailliances' Book Award for Fiction of the Year and the John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award from the UK's Crime Writers' Association, and it was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and the American Booksellers' Association's Debut Fiction Prize. Wiley's second novel, THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY, was a national bestseller, an Indie Next Pick, a SIBA Okra Pick, an O Magazine Top Ten Title, a LibraryReads February Selection, and an Amazon Book of the Month. It has been optioned for film. Wiley holds a B.A. in Literature from the University of North Carolina-Asheville, an M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He has received grants and fellowships from the Asheville Area Arts Council, the Thomas Wolfe Society, the MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo. His stories have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Roanoke Review and The Carolina Quarterly, and his essays on Southern literature have appeared in American Literary Realism, The South Carolina Review, and other publications. Wiley is writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Fiction and Nonfiction Writing at Southern New Hampshire University. A native of North Carolina, he lives in Wilmington, NC with his wife and their two young daughters. Read More