The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Available now from Harper Audio.
From the Publisher:
“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.”
From the review in AudioFile Magazine:
“Narrators Karen White and Elizabeth Wylie use pacing and tone to bring characters to life in this novel about Ella Mae Wiggins, a forgotten heroine of history. For the bulk of the story White’s capable voice projects desperation and hope as Ella Mae struggles to support her family amid deplorable working conditions that lead, finally, to her commitment to strive for fair treatment. White gives unique voices to mill owners, union organizers, and Ella’s fellow workers. Wylie is the believable elderly voice of her daughter Lilly, who writes a letter to Ella’s grandson 79 years later to share the heroism and tragic consequences of those efforts. A powerful look at a dark chapter in our history when desperate people fought for equity and respect.”
(You can also listen to the review as well as a different sound clip here.)
From the review at Bloglovin’:
“I went back and forth about whether to listen to this book or not, and I’m really glad I decided to give it a try. I liked the story from the beginning and stayed hooked until the end.”
My recording experience:
Although we live in the same town, I met Wiley at the Virginia Festival of the Book several years ago. Since then I’ve run into him many times. Everywhere from various cultural events here in Wilmington to Wake n’ Bake donuts where we both happened to be treating our daughters. When he asked if I’d be interested in recording his third book, I didn’t have to be asked twice. I had loved his previous novels and knew the material would be filled with local characters and a story I could sink my teeth into.
I wasn’t disappointed, and not just because it was the most fun I had with an author in the prep phase – which you can hear about in our podcast at TuneIn.com (there’s a taste of that in the video below.) This book is a must read (or listen), important issues of our time despite the fact that it’s based on a story that took place almost a hundred years ago.
Listen to a sample here:
Finally, many thanks to Wiley, for entrusting me with his book and then having the good graces to say this about my performance: