About the book

Author: Cash, Wiley

Title: The last ballad: A novel

Publication: New York, NY : William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. ISBN 9780062682031.

DAISY audio format narrated by Karen Elizabeth White and Elizabeth Wiley. CELA library call number DA54667. 384 pages in the paper edition; 14 hrs., 7 mins. as a recorded book.

About the story

This is a very moving story about, Ella Mae Wiggins, a striker and songwriter who took part in the 1929 textile mill strikes in the Southern United States. It takes place in Gaston County, near Bessemer City, North Carolina.

The author paints a vivid picture of the abject poverty and misery the mill workers endured, illustrating the great sacrifices they made to change their world. Told through several different voices and from different perspectives in both time and space, it’s a story of strength and endurance, of equality and inequality, of respect for people often disregarded.

As the story unfolds, it illustrates the beginnings of the labour movement in the United States, with its origins in the Communist Party but its deep roots in the injustices suffered by workers. There’s violence in this book. There was violence in the early union movement.

It wasn’t an easy book to read, though it was extremely well-written. I came away with a deep admiration for both the main character and for the people she knew, those who helped her and those whom she helped. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to know about the early labour movement, about the Southern US, or about women’s or African-Americans’ place in it.

I read this book from the Toronto Public Library where it was contained on 12 DAISY CDs. It was narrated by two women, one telling the main story and another doing the narration from Ella Mae’s daughter’s perspective from her vantage point in about 2005. The way the two points of view are juxtaposed is very effective, and adds depth to a story that was already quite deep.

This book was named a Best Book of 2017 by the Chicago Public Library and the American Library Association.

The author’s other books, A land more kind than home (2012) and This dark road to mercy (2014) are not available in English on the on the CELA website, although the second one is available in French as Les chemins de la rédemption (DA99040). You can read them on Bookshare, however, or as I did, though the Toronto Public Library on accessible DAISY audio CDs.

Highly recommended