The Last Ballad

The Last Ballad

A Novel

Book - 2017
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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.

Publisher: New York, NY : William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9780062313119
0062313118
Branch Call Number: CASH W
Characteristics: 378 pages ; 24 cm

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orange_lobster_23
Apr 06, 2018

This is a fictional version of oppressive labor conditions in N. Carolina textile mills in the 1920's; and attempts by the workers to unionize. The main protagonist is the Ella Mae, a worker/homemaker/mother abused at home and work, who, reluctantly, is recruited than
actively becomes the voice of the workers. While researching union history for this novel, the
author discovered a familial link to Ella Mae.

BetsyG1 Mar 27, 2018

This is an important & informative story about union organizing in North Carolina. I did find the multiple POV's somewhat confusing.

b
brangwinn
Feb 13, 2018

Based on areal person, this novel takes the reader back to the 1920’s rural North Carolina where the poor are basically “owned” by the fabric mills. There’s no hope, only a bleak future. Ella May, a mill employee becomes convinced the only way out is to align with the Unions. Bleakness plus hope underlie the entire novel and create a picture of a strong-willed woman willing to fight for her future and those around her.

b
btoomer
Jan 31, 2018

Gastonia! Charlotte! Statesville! Bessemer City! McAdenville! If you love reading fictional stories that places the reader inside North Carolina cities, then this title “The Last Ballard” by Wiley Cash is the right novel for you. The author takes the reader back to 1929 and introduces us to Ella May Wiggins and her discovery of Unions in which she haphazardly joins the movement to change the labor conditions of the mill where she works nights to financially support her four children. Despite Ella’s softs spoken demeanor, she manages to impress upon the rich and poor members of the Carolinas in a powerful way leaving behind an unforgettable legacy.

CMLibrary_akeller Jan 16, 2018

I became interested in reading this book when I heard Wiley Cash speaking at Verse and Vino 2017. The way he described the book made me want to read it. It's set partly in Bessemer City and Gastonia and surrounding areas, which made me happy because I live around these parts. But although I live around here, I knew nothing about the mill strike and Ella May. For the most part, I enjoyed this book, but I really wanted more from Ella May's perspective. I don't mind reading books with multiple POVs, but most of the book were other people's POVs rather than hers.
The storytelling was beautiful and sad. Ella May was such a strong woman who had to make a difficult decision about joining the union. The stories of people like her are often overlooked, so stories like these are important

r
Reads_A_Lot
Jan 03, 2018

Interesting historical fiction about the attempt to unionize the textile mills in 1929 North Carolina. Centered around mill worker Ella May Wiggins who lives in poverty with her four children and joins the union movement in hopes of a better life. The book jacket states it was inspired by actual events, but I didn't know that Ella May was based on a real person until I read the Afterward at the end of the book. A good story but it was put together in a confusing way with too many POVs (8, one of which went by 2 different character names). This is the 2nd book I've read recently with this scenario - If The Creek Don't Rise had 10 POVs. Really hoping this isn't a new trend with current writers as I am not a fan of this style.

p
PearlyBaker
Nov 20, 2017

Mayhap it's just me, hell it usually is. My mind is elsewhere these days. I have a Client I work with who has the schizophrenia and he always asks me if it's the end of the world soon? Depending on life circumstances I want to say, "No I have 50 more good years left in me," or "If only" or "It sure as Fuck feels like it sister." My mind is constantly drifting and dreaming these days, to fear, unimaginable sorrow, take your breath away panic, rage or blank numbness. I sometimes get off the phone with a friend and the only thing I can think of are Jerry Garcia lyrics like, "His friends were getting most concerned," or Robert Zimmerman's, "Yes I received your letter yesterday, about the time the doorknob broke. You asked how I was doing, man is that some kind of joke." I thought I knew what desolation row was back in the 80's and most definitely in the 90's. Back then my life was akin to Jenny's in Forest Gump sans the stripping and unfortunately no Black Panther Parties. So maybe this was good or maybe I was just expecting to be blown away like a Land More Kind Than Home, but it came off somewhat trite and maybe sounding like he was trying too hard. I often wonder if these guys actually have these books in them or if they write out of contractual mandate. I do suspect that it has more to do with the material and writing in this case than my state of well being. Much like my second baby mama this piece just seemed to be missing a soul. Unlike her there is no threat of having your own soul taken by making eye contact with this book, which is nice.

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