genre: adult fiction
The subtitle of this book is A Woman's Part in the Coal Miners' Struggle. I don't know if that's what made me pick it up at the thrift store, or if it's because of the strong-looking redhead on the cover of my copy. Either way, while browsing, I read the author's note in the front and I was hooked.
Daughter of the Hills was written in the 1930s. Our author tells us that it is based on the real-life story of a woman named Dolly Hawkins, who lived her life in a coal mining town in Appalachia. The narrative begins when Dolly is on the cusp of being an adult, caring for her brother while he works at the mine, prior to World War I. Then John Hawkins swaggers into town and steals her heart in about five seconds, even though its tough for her to admit it. And really, as much as Daughter of the Hills is a story of a mining town and the struggles of its people, it is also just really the story of coalminer's wife Dolly, her love of John and the hardships of their lives together. Dolly's own family history and lore as such an integral part of her self that those pieces are a part of her story too, one generation's experiences bleeding into and inspiring or corrupting the next.
Beautiful, beautiful book. The love story was so brilliantly rendered, it made the excitement and terror of new love so real. The mining life is so harsh, so terrible, there was a scene that actually made me teary with the stress of being a miner's girl, just waiting to find out what happened down there in the deep mountain. I loved the cohesiveness of the town, the way it felt like a giant family, crazy and frustrating and yet completely dependent on each other. I loved the glimpse it gave me into a way of life where people really used dyed sugar sacks to make curtains, children snuck rides in coal cars going up the mountain and families sent their 11 year olds to work so that the family could eat. I kept thinking to myself, "people actually lived this kind of life."
It brought to mind other wonderful books, most particularly How Green Way My Valley and Mrs. Mike. Books just dripping with a sense of place and time, where I am transported and soon the vernacular and dialect are as comfortable as my own. I suppose this type of novel isn't for everyone but apparently it sure is for me.