Hannah Coulter : a novel

by Wendell Berry

Paperback, 2004




Washington, D.C. : Enfield : Shoemaker & Hoard ; Hi Marketing [distributor], c2004.


In the latest installment in Wendell Berry's long story about the citizens of Port William, Kentucky, readers learn of the Coulters' children, of the Feltners and Branches, and how survivors 'live right on.' 'Ignorant boys, killing each other,' is just about all Nathan Coulter would tell his wife about the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. Life carried on for the community of Port William, Kentucky, as some boys returned from the war while the lives of others were mourned. In her seventies, Nathan's wife, Hannah, now has time to tell of the years since the war.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bwheatley
While Berry is a revered writer, this was my first read of his books. I found the lack of events almost boring. The day-to-day life was interesting to read, but I didn't really identify with any of the characters to make me enjoy this book and want to read more of his works. His style is too calm
Show More
and plain. While a quote or two might be useful for me to think about, the entire read was not exceptional.
Show Less
LibraryThing member metamariposa
Hannah Coulter suffers from supporting a supposedly feminine voice that focuses on the good work of all the men. It is horribly nostalgic and offers inadequate individual solutions to deep structural problems, solutions that would perpetuate the privileged groups' power. And yet--I cried for the
Show More
last third of the book. Hannah reminded me of my collective grandmothers, from whom I'm estranged by time and distance and circumstance; their knowledge ever more denigrated by the contemporary. There was beauty in Hannah's life, beauty that has been destroyed and not replaced by anything equal.
Show Less
LibraryThing member RRHowell
Wendell always moves slowly, so if you like fast-paced stories, this will not be for you. However, for those not bothered by slowing down to the pace of country life of an older era, the Port William books are memorable.
LibraryThing member SABC
Hanna Coulter, of Port William, Kentucky, sorts through her memories. Twice-widowed, alone, and in her late 70's, she recalls childhood, young love and loss, raising children, and the changing of seasons. Hannah offers her steady voice as she contemplates the deterioration of community, with wise
Show More
and often fiery opinions about the way things were, are, and might have been.
Show Less
LibraryThing member NashanMalley
This was the first Wendell Berry book I ever read and it has changed the course of my life. Berry's way of describing the past and farm life is so idealistic and wonderful that it has made my dream to live on a farm surrounded by my family one day. Though I share nothing in common with his
Show More
characters, I constantly found myself emotionally connected with them on many levels of love and family ties. Hannah Coulter, though fiction, is real enough to break even the hardest of hearts and wake one up to the realization that technology, a fast pace, and leaving home are not what "heaven on earth" is all about.
Show Less
LibraryThing member bookworm12
This lovely novel is my first experience with Berry and in it I found an unexpected gem. I was surprised by the quiet wisdom and truth in his writing.

Hannah Coulter tells us the story of her life in Kentucky. From her early days with her father and step-mother in a small home, to her courting
Show More
days, to the pain caused by World War II and the eventual life she settles into. It’s a beautiful look at Midwestern life, both realistic and idealistic if that’s possible.

At the beginning of the story Hannah loses her mother when she is only 12-years-old. Her father remarries and her Grand Mam looks out for her. Though much of Hannah’s life is marred by grief she is a strong woman. She accepts both the good and the bad and moves forward. It reminded me a bit of the later books in the Anne of Green Gables series.

Through the losses Hannah experiences in her life she paints a beautiful portrait of grief; its overwhelming presence and the continued normalcy of life all at the same time. Grief, especially when it’s caused by a war, is universally shared, but also it’s also shockingly isolating.

There’s a section in the book that talks about the “ghosts” that are present at big events like weddings. Even though they may have been dead for years, you can’t help but see the whole event through the eyes of those you’ve lost. They are there in a way, their presence is felt and they’re missed by everyone. It hit home for me because I’d just experienced that at my brother’s wedding in May, missing my own Mom desperately and wishing she could have been there to celebrate with us.

BOTTOM LINE: This is such a beautiful book about all the stages of life. This will absolutely not be my last Berry novel, but it was a perfect place to start with his work.

“War and rumors of war made a kind of pressure against the future or any talk of plans.”
Show Less
LibraryThing member Fernhill
Elderly Kentucky woman tells story of her life. Warm, earthy, full of good feelings and good people. Easy read, lyrical at times, sometimes like an essay.
LibraryThing member jackiewark
Hannah Coulter, now in her 70's, recounts her life as a widow, two times now, and the events that brought her to Port William as a farmer's wife. The ups and downs of farming, child-rearing, and marriage are told with a wistful voice.

The story, is one which the majority of the population live every
Show More
day...the difficulties of raising productive children, the financial sacrifices a couple makes for independence, and the love and faith needed to support one another throughout a long life. We all live it, in one way or another...I guess I didn't have to read about it, to know it is true. There was nothing extraordinary about the story, no depth to the characters, no enlightenment in the the solutions to their predicament.

The passages were forced and repetitive, even a little condescending. It doesn't matter that they were farmers, all occupations have hardships, all families have troubles and joy, all aspects of humanity are worth fighting for.

I give this book 2 1/2 stars.
Show Less
LibraryThing member judyg54
Hannah Coulter is a twice-widowed lady, now living alone in her late seventies. She will recall her childhood, her young first love and marriage and her loss. She shares with you her second marriage, raising her children and the different seasons in life she goes through. Her thoughts are endearing
Show More
and the more I read the more I enjoyed getting to know Hannah Coulter and the folks from Port William, Kentucky.

This was a story that grew on me. The more I read the more I liked. It took me awhile to really get into the story, but by the end I had shed a few tears and learned to love and appreciate this dear lady and the life she lived.
Show Less
LibraryThing member TerriS
This novel is the story of Hannah Coulter told in first person of her life from the 1920's to the early 2000's. She grew up on a small farm in Kentucky, then after leaving the farm, she tells of meeting her husband(s), and of her life on the farm, raising children, being a part of the small farming
Show More
community of neighbors, and of old age and the death of her husband. I liked it fine. It wanted to be more poetic and thoughtful than I was in the mood for right now, so it might be my own fault that I didn't like it better. It is the July read for my library book club, and I know the leader who recommended it really likes this author and has read many of his books, many of which are connected to each other. But I'm not inclined to read another one :/
Show Less
LibraryThing member Steve777
Thought-provoking novel recounting the life of a noble elderly female farmer, through the eyes of the woman. Brings up interesting questions about the nature of progress, the importance of place, family and community.
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Wendell Berry’s Port William novels are quiet stories set in Port William, a fictional rural Kentucky community near the Ohio River. The Coulter, Feltner, and Beechum families lead simple lives working the land, bound together by a deep commitment to the land and the place. No one is trying to
Show More
get to “a better place”; they are already there.

Hannah Coulter is written a bit like a memoir. Hannah, well into her 70s, relates her life story and the story of Port William as she observed it. Born in 1922, she experienced the early loss of her mother, but was raised by a loving grandmother. World War II brought more loss to Port William, including Hannah’s first husband Virgil Feltner. After the war she married Nathan Coulter, who experienced war horrors of his own. Together they work the land, raise a family, and care for extended family and the community.

Besides the obvious impact of war, Wendell Berry makes it a turning point in Port William and in American life. Post-war America brought a new emphasis on college education which, accompanied by technological change, created a fundamentally different world. While Port William remained a rural farming community, many of its children left for college and did not return.

Reading Hannah Coulter, as with other Port William novels, I found myself drawn into the Port William “membership,” feeling as if I actually knew the characters and were part of their story. While there are occasional funny stories that could only happen in a small rural community, the tone is mostly philosophical and contemplative, causing me to consider my own very different surroundings and life choices, and how I can better model respect for the land and love for others.
Show Less
LibraryThing member bblum
Excellent story told of Feltner Family in mythical town of Port Williams Kentucky, located a half mile From the river. Farming, friends, “the membership “ and being grateful for what you have through hard work. Wonderfully written , thoughtful with many life truths plainly told. Highly
Show More
Show Less
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
There is a simple grace to the plot of Hannah Coulter. There is a simple grace to the character of Hannah Coulter, as well. You won't find major conflict. You won't tremendous disaster or upheaval. No crazy mood swings or dramatic tantrums. Hannah is simply an elderly Kentucky farmer nearing the
Show More
end of her life, sharing her life story with an unknown audience. She has survived two husbands and the changing of her community, but really what she truly wants to talk about is love. Love as a parent, grandparent, farmer, Port William resident, and, most importantly, the wife of a tormented veteran. It is this last love that brings a change of tone to Hannah Coulter. It's as if the entire book was written to support the chapter of Okinawa. Hannah tries to make sense of the war; to put it into a context she can understand. "You were living, it seemed, inside a dark cloud filled with lightning and thunder; thousands of tons of explosives, bombs and shells, machine gun and rifle fire" (p 169). Hannah puts it into a perspective the reader can understand. It is easy to forgot about the involuntary reactions of the body during fear and pain. Based on the animated and passionate voice, Berry seems to be the veteran in the two pages describing the Battle of Okinawa. He is that puzzle piece that completes the picture but doesn't quite fit the space; as if the jigsaw didn't cut the angles correctly.
Much like a yoga instructor asking practitioners to "breathe through their heart's center," I am asking readers of Hannah Coulter to read with heartfelt intention; to inhale the words gently and with a deliberate pace. It is well worth the effort.
Show Less
LibraryThing member larryerick
I think it's important I tell readers why I read this book at this time. I had scores of other books to read, but I went out of my way to read this one now. I've been sorely disappointed of late in reading otherwise very popular novels being amateurish in significant ways. I needed to read a
Show More
fictional book -- not short stories -- in which I knew the author would be professional and consistently so. I also very much needed to read an author I knew to speak honestly and compassionately about human being, acting as humans are capable of acting, but are asked repeatedly of late to bring out the worst of themselves by their national leaders. I needed my open mental sores to have a salve placed upon them. This book was expected to do that for me and it did not disappoint. Those that already are well acquainted with the author and his fictional world in Port William, know exactly what I'm talking about. This is my fourth book covering that seemingly magical, yet very possible world. In this case, the author chooses an older woman, not coincidentally much the same age and generation of the author himself, who looks back on her long life of experiences and relationships in Port William. She has a lot to say, and the author expresses her thoughts very well. It didn't take long before the idea of this book as a series of essays written as fiction, hit me. The elderly woman-- and the author -- have a lot to say about life, relationships, societal changes, and much more. At times, the essays are heart-breakingly human, honest, and totally relatable. On a couple occasions, I felt the author drifted off a bit and his thoughts came through hazily, but that was quite brief. In one case, he goes into almost a rant about how terrible war is, but any decent history of the world wars, or the Korean, Vietnamese, or Middle East conflicts would have made that crystal clear, so I was a little surprised he somehow had sort of stumbled into that realization and was so adamant about sharing his disgust with the reader, who I hope would not have needed the enlightenment but may very well have, just like the author. If I had thought about it, I could have noted down numerous parts of the book that I felt were extremely compelling, but I didn't, so I wouldn't try to point any out now. It's far better that you pick up pretty much any of the author's Port William volumes and remind yourself what good writing and a good human existence are supposed to be like.
Show Less
LibraryThing member LGCullens
In this seventh Berry novel, a tale is told by an old women that pulls into it the community of Port William. All in all, the story of Hannah's live (including the Great Depression, World War II, the postwar industrialization of agriculture, and the flight of youth to more lucrative urban
Show More
employment) embodies major themes of Berry's fiction.

It's a superbly written tale of resilience within a community of caring people.
Show Less
LibraryThing member et.carole
Not Berry's best novel, but still an enjoyable and thought-provoking read about life in a small community.
LibraryThing member LauGal
A coworker suggested Wendell Berry's books. I had not heard of him.The story told from Hannah's perspective at the end of her life.Her stories (and ours really) are of all the people,friends,family,loved ones that come and go in our lives...aka "the membership".Reading her story is like sitting
Show More
with her as she tells it.This story is insigtful,warm,tender,cruel at times,(but life is often cruel).What we know of people and what we think we know.I hated to see this book end. I cried. I cannot wait to read the rest of Berry's books.Throughout this story I could not beleive it was written by a man.
I would recommend this to anyone that just wants a good read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member debbie13410
Hannah Coulter reminisces about her life living on a farm in rural Kentucky during the middle of the 20th century. (fiction)

I had never heard of Wendell Berry or his Port Williams series so I had no expectations about this book. He writes in a way that seems like he is summarizing a thought or
Show More
action. I kept waiting for him to change the tone of it. I am not explaining this well but it was odd for me.

This quote I can totally relate to. It is timeless. Quote from Hannah - "To be the mother of a grown-up child means that you don’t have a child anymore, and that is sad. When the grown-up child leaves home, that is sadder. I wanted Margaret to go to college, but when she actually went away it broke my heart."
Show Less




Page: 1.1568 seconds