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Heartland

A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth
Narrated by: Sarah Smarsh
Length: 9 hrs and 35 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (166 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

A perfect companion to Evicted and Nickel and Dimed, Heartland reveals one woman's experience of working-class poverty with a startlingly observed, eye-opening, and topical personal story.

During Sarah Smarsh’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country’s changing economic policies solidified her family’s place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities, and she explores this idea as lived experience, metaphor, and level of consciousness.

Smarsh was born a fifth-generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up as the daughter of a dissatisfied young mother and raised predominantly by her grandmother on a farm 30 miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working-class Americans living in the heartland. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, Heartland is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess.

“Sarah Smarsh - tough-minded and rough-hewn - draws us into the real lives of her family, barely making it out there on the American plains. There’s not a false note. Smarsh, as a writer, is Authentic with a capital A... This is just what the world needs to hear.” (George Hodgman, author of Bettyville)

©2018 Sarah Smarsh (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

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Honest, Raw, Insightful

Sarah's thoughtfully researched and first-hand account of growing up in a rural farming community is powerful and provocative. She weaves the stories of 3 generations of women and the hardships they face in the wake of being born poor and female. Beautifully read by the author.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Missing pieces

I wanted to love this book, and it was in fact very educational. I thought, however, that the narrator did not seem especially poor. That’s a good thing, of course, except the book was built on the premise that she was. In fact, several of her family members owned property and others had businesses. I kept waiting for dramatic evidence of poverty to emerge. It felt almost as if something had been omitted from the book, something that would explain why she felt so very poor.

As modern style seems to dictate, the book jumps around in time a great deal, making some aspects of Smarsh’s story feel repetitive by, say, the third time we are with her in her elementary school years and she is moving again. Still, it was an interesting portrait of a tough and really admirable American family in a part of the country that isn’t often discussed in modern literature.


1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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My favorite memoir of 2018

I've read a massive amount of nonfiction this year, including memoir, and this is my favorite memoir of 2018.

Unlike many memoirs, there is some political and cultural context here. Also, unlike many memoirs, this is not just the author's story but the story of both sides of her family (going back a couple of generations), the story of a place, a time, class, the politics of the time, farming, etc. So it doesn't suffer from the self-absorption that memoir can. In fact, she leaves so much out of her own story that there are a few lines near the end of the book that are so strange and jarring that I felt like Smarsh had probably written about that particular subject, edited it out of the story, and all that remained were these few lines as an accidental artifact. There are another few lines she tosses in that were kind of shock because it completely changed the way I thought about her and they weren't mentioned till the end. I Googled after reading the book to see if there was anything else by her on audio and--another shock--she's very pretty, but that's pretty much left out of the book and it's that would have informed the story a little more, i.e., her two biggest desires: Not be a teenage mom and to get an education. While I pretty much understood from how Smarsh wrote the story that breaking a generational pattern of teenage motherhood would be difficult, I have to imagine it was even more for a very pretty teenager.

Don't let the "you" she occasionally addresses put you off. While it is threaded through the book, it fades as the book goes on. It was a sort of interesting literary device and she claims that it's true--she really did speak to that "you" so go with it!

If you don't read a zillion books a year and are choosing between popular ones this year (like Educated), choose this one. The writing is far better and the fact that this isn't a story of a childhood that populated by violent, mentally ill religious nuts, a childhood that most people can't imagine like in Educated, but in the end is so much more interesting says a lot about Smarsh's skill as a writer.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Kansas and the USA

The story setting in Kansas, my home state, resonates with me. This story could be told in any state. Ms Smarsh’s emphatic remarks about treatment towards women are sometimes burdensome, but they should be heard and borne. Cheers to this author for her journey and telling this story about her family and her home and her determined path to control her destiny, recognizing and refusing to repeat the dysfunctional patterns of the people in her family that she clearly loves.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Powerful and gripping.

This is the most impactful book I have read in years. I was raised mere miles from the author’s home during roughly the same time period. Her perspective, attention to detail and raw truth telling are both brave and powerful. For the betterment of our society, this is a story that should be shared again and again.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Poetic and Historical Narrative

This was a poetic interweaving of family narrative and historical-political culture that thoughtfully tells a story of poverty is that familiar yet unknown. Smarsh is a brilliant writer who writes artfully and honestly. Everyone will be better for having read this book because of its authenticity, honesty, and compelling insight into life, work, struggle, and family.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A Kansan’s Perspective

Do some books make you feel uncomfortable because they hit way too close to home? This one did for sure! I don’t reach all of the same conclusions of this author, but it resonates. Thoughtful read for those who wish a better understanding of the “flyover” states that we call home.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Poverty lives on.

Made me laugh and cry, from memories of my own childhood poverty, to seeing how people judge those that are poor today. Thank you!

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Unique perspective

Ms. Smarsh has a unique background and perspective through which to observe big events in our nation. She tells her story with passion, compassion and generosity. Her personal story is a window into many other stories.

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Outstanding!

Change the state and this is my story. The story of my family. The story of many families I know. Sarah Smarsh taught me that I was never ‘poor’, like I was led to believe most of my life. Well done, Miss Smarsh.