The Last Ballad

A Novel
Length: 14 hrs and 6 mins
4 out of 5 stars (151 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The New York Times best-selling 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, 28-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. Two 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 72 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 20th-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.

©2017 Wiley Cash (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers
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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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Dryer than a popcorn fart

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an Audible production where the narrator was so obviously reading aloud. Perhaps the writing style is not conducive to a good audio performance. In any event, I found this to be quite unpalatable. Character development was weak. The author has an overly dramatic style that rings shallow and falls flat. Characters are largely unbelievable. I couldn’t even finish the book.

4 people found this helpful

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missing afterstory?

our book club read this and I "read" via audible. The club talked about how useful the after story and authors notes were. These chapters were not included in Audible...I feel I missed out.

1 person found this helpful

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outstanding narrative of birth of unions in Americ

great book and outstanding reading. great study of start of unions in America. very engaging.

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Informative and Entertaining

I struggled a little bit with the switches from character to character and timeline, but soon found a rhythm. I found this book informative and entertaining, with the read/listen for sure.

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Difficult to Finish

had a difficult time staying focused, lots of long drawn out, unnecessary details. on insignificant characters. And the Narrators sing song voice was hard to take also. skipped several chapters at a time just to get to finish. Not impresses!!

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I HAVE THE BOOK

Reading starts in the middle of the ninth line of the book. If the author and publisher thought that it was unimportant they would have left it out of the book. T... W

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Horrendous part of NC history

This is a haunting tale of the true story of the horrendous labor disputes in the mill towns of North Carolina in 1929 - very well written through the courageous life of Ella May Wiggins.

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Left me wanting more!

From the first word, I was drawn in deep. Ms. White & Ms. Wiley’s beautifully performed telling of this heartbreaking tale had me sitting in my car unwilling to turn it off! I believe my instant connection comes from my own desire, and great sadness, to know more about the struggles of my own poor grandparents, who were both mill workers. While not in the textile mill but in the famous furniture mills of North Carolina, they had 8 children (3 of which died in infancy) and worked sun up to sun down to provide better for them. The physical description of Ella could be the twin to my Granny V! My own daddy joined the USAF at age 16 with my Granny’s letter of consent; he served in Vietnam from the first day until the last, for 20+ years. I say this, to say this, my mother was furious with my Granny for sending her son (actually two sons) to war & what she thought was certain death.....until she understood the why of it! My Granny sent them so they would have a “fighting” chance of never stepping foot in The Mill.
Now the more.......the journey of Ella’s children after? That no good lawman (and what I think really happened the day of the raid)? Haywood, his journey after? Kate, Clair, Richard how does the knowing of Ella change the course of their lives? Clair’s upcoming marriage and the real knowledge of her fiancées family? So many questions left unanswered....and like every great mystery, I’m desperate to know if all my hunches are on the right path?

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poignant,and uplifting in its portrayal

The sacrifices made for the rights of workers is made more profoundly real in this VERY personal saga.

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Compelling historical perspective, riveting.<br />

enjoyed the story, woven throughout with references to the history of union organization in the Southern textile industry.