The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
A Novel

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A novel built on and around murder, racism and violence could have made for an unrelentingly sombre read, and there is no doubt that The Last Ballad is intense, but Cash is careful to infuse it with the sense of hope inherent in a movement that eventually brought change not just to North Carolina but to an entire nation.
-Guardian

Synopsis

“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.

 

About Wiley Cash

See more books from this Author
Wiley Cash is from western North Carolina. He has a Ph.D in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and teaches English at Bethany College. He lives with his wife in West Virginia. This is his first novel.
 
Published October 3, 2017 by William Morrow. 389 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, History, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Last Ballad
All: 3 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 0

NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Lisa Guidarini on Nov 12 2017

The Last Ballad tells a story unjustly neglected, one pivotal in American history, as purely lyrical as Ella May Wiggins’ voice. We ought never forget she gave her life selflessly, nor the wave of change it caused. Wiley Cash’s novel gives testament to this and to a courageous woman.

Read Full Review of The Last Ballad: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Amy Rowland on Nov 17 2017

Cash, with care and steadiness, has pulled from the wreckage of the past a lost moment of Southern progressivism. Perhaps fiction can help us bear the burden of Southern history, which is pressing down hard on us today.

Read Full Review of The Last Ballad: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Laird Hunt on Jan 10 2018

A novel built on and around murder, racism and violence could have made for an unrelentingly sombre read, and there is no doubt that The Last Ballad is intense, but Cash is careful to infuse it with the sense of hope inherent in a movement that eventually brought change not just to North Carolina but to an entire nation.

Read Full Review of The Last Ballad: A Novel | See more reviews from Guardian

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85%

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