Playing St. Barbara by Marian Szczepanski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I found the historical portion of the book to be the best part of this book. The setting is a coal mining town near Pittsburg following the Great War and The Great Depression. The crux of the story is the fate of women in such dire circumstances. The miners work in dangerous mines for pittance, shop at the company store, and live in company housing. There is never a way out of debt. They want to unionize but are bullied by the KKK.
The book covers a couple of decades and the women in an Irish/German family. Their fates greatly differ and their struggles are vast, particularly with their alcoholic, abusive father/husband. It is not as depressing as it may seem. Daily lives intertwine and the neighbors are willing to assist, forgive, and bring dinner when tragedy strikes and it is not uncommon.
I found there were too many people to keep track of. If I were to read it again, I'd draw out a socio and genogram to keep them all straight. I also struggled with the pronouns and wondering who was being referred to and when. It took more concentration for me than I wanted to give it.
Yet the material is fresh and the story is one we would likely find in variation in our own family histories.
That said, I would encourage you to go go to the author's site to completely immerse yourself in the life of coal mining during this time period. It is absolutely fascinating. And terrifying. And I have a much greater appreciation of my own ancestors that mined. It's not only Pittsburgh that coal mining was a staple. In fact, as recently as 2008, the Crandall Canyon Mine collapsed, killing miners. During a rescue mission, another portion collapsed and more died. I believe an appreciation of mining coal and the lifestyle is a necessary part of understanding and learning of the history of our country.
*The author has kindly provided a link for readers who struggle with keeping track of the characters and their children. Please visit: Playing St. Barbara by Marian Szczepanski.
Review copy provided by TLC.