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The Last Ballad: A Novel
by Wiley Cash

Published: 2017-10-03
Hardcover : 384 pages
4 members reading this now
21 clubs reading this now
3 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 3 members

Winner of the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction

Named a Best Book of 2017 by the Chicago Public Library and the American Library Association

“Wiley Cash reveals the dignity and humanity of people asking for a fair shot in an unfair world.”

- Christina Baker Kline, author of A ...

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Introduction

Winner of the Southern Book Prize for Literary Fiction

Named a Best Book of 2017 by the Chicago Public Library and the American Library Association

“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.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Well told story about a little known heroine."by thewanderingjew (see profile) 02/26/19

The Last Ballad, Wiley Cash
Wiley Cash has a way with words. He develops the characters so well that the reader walks alongside them as the book unfolds. living their experiences with them.
... (read more)

 
  "Interestinig but depressing"by ebach (see profile) 07/06/18

THE LAST BALLAD is historical fiction about a poor female textile mill worker who one day in the 1920s walked off the job and joined the National Textile Workers Union. It is also about a ce... (read more)

 
  "Our whole club enjoyed this book"by [email protected] (see profile) 04/14/18

It's not often that everyone agrees, but on this book we all did. We are within 1 hr of the setting in Gastonia, NC so the book was especially relavent to us. The main character is a real revelation,... (read more)

 
by Ljwagoner (see profile) 10/08/17

4.75 ?? Cash takes a little known incident in NC history & thru the lens of several characters, weaves the story of Ella May Wiggins. Ella may not have realized as a young, poor girl & mother that she... (read more)

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