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.
Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 5th 2018 by William Morrow Paperbacks
(first published October 3rd 2017)
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.
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Ella May knew she wasn't pretty, had always known it.Based on one amazing real-life woman, this is the story of Ella May Wiggins who as a single mother became a union organizer and died fighting for worker's rights.
At the ripe young age of 29, Ella May finds herself raising four children alone while working a back-breaking job at a textile mill. She lives and works alongside members of the black community. In fact, her best friend and neighbor in Stumptown is a black woman by the name of Violet.
Ella's husband has run off...again. She knows she isn't much to look at, but she has been keeping company with on again/off again Charlie, who shares her love for music. Ella writes ballads in her free time. Note: One of her ballads, A Mill Mother's Lament, was recorded by Pete Seger.
Pretty took the will to be so and the money to do it and the time to see to it and the sleep to maintain it, and Ella didn't have any of those things.Ella May never had much in life, and all she wants is to have happy children with food in their stomachs and a roof over their heads. She is struggling to do just that on her measly $9 a week, when she hears of a union. So she hikes to her first union meeting.
Ella is one tough and impressive lady...
But there was something about her that made him fear getting too close, something that told him she would just as soon spit in his eye as say hello.Equality was important to Ella, both for blacks and for women, and she fought for both.
I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:
Tuesday, June 5th: Instagram: @the_need_to_read
Wednesday, June 6th: BookNAround
Thursday, June 7th: Man of La Book
Friday, June 8th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Monday, June 11th: Wining Wife
Tuesday, June 12th: Jessicamap Reviews
Wednesday, June 13th: Literary Quicksand
Friday, June 15th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, June 18th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, June 19th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks
Wednesday, June 20th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Thursday, June 21st: Lit and Life
My final word: How can you not be impressed with Ella? This story is about desperation and determination and a strong will. Ella was made of the same ilk as the women who fought for women's suffrage or who survived the Dust Bowl. One of my favorite things about this novel is the way that the author tells Ella's story through the use of other characters. Throughout the book each chapter is focused on seeing Ella through a different person on her periphery. I'm always a sucker for Appalachian literature, and jumped at the opportunity to read Wiley Cash when it was presented. Tragic and inspiring, I definitely recommend this one!
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The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.
I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.