"In July 1913, twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements had seen enough of the world to know that it was unfair. She's spent her whole life in the coal-mining town of Calumet, Michigan where men risk their lives for meager salaries--and had barely enough to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. The women labor in the houses of the elite, and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren't coming home. When Annie decides to stand up for herself, and the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle"--
"And that, children, is how you by-God raise some hell."
The setting is 1913, in a copper-mining town in the upper-peninsula of Michigan. Annie Clements spent her whole life in this town and saw the mining industry destroy her loved ones and weaken the community, forcing them to completely depend on the mining company, to survive. The conditions were abysmal, to say the least.
With the help of a union organizer, Annie takes on the arrogant mine owners, calling for a strike, knowing it will, most likely destroy her marriage and threaten her life. I normally don't fall for the female main characters, in the novels I read but I had to say I found, twenty-five old Annie Clements quite appealing and not only for her looks and stature but also for her sharp mind, her fearlessness, and unflagging dedication. Team that up this author's deft research skills and her robust writing chops and you have a terrific, hard-hitting story, that also happens to be based on actual characters and events. Yep, MDR has delivered again.
The story is riveting and Russell gives us so much information on the condition in the mines at this time and forces us to face the incredible danger to the immigrants who did the bulk of the work. By juxtaposing that with the haughty, arrogant mine supervisor, my blood was ready to boil. But it also made me so proud of the hard working women who helped in so many ways, even in the midst of tragedy. And boy can Russell describe tragedy. Ghastly tragedy. Very highly recommended.
So why should we spend our precious time away from the salt mines reading a book about organized labor? To those who haven’t read her books, Mary Doria Russell’s previous novels could fit in some commonly accepted genre. Doc and Epitaph could be called westerns, The Sparrow and Children of God are science fiction and A Thread of Grace is a war story. But where do you put a book about people in the back of beyond who go out on strike? More to the point, why should you read it?
The bottom line is that Russell’s books are not what you think they will be. The Sparrow was first recommended to me by a friend and I put off reading it because I’m not that into sci-fi. Ten years and my friend had passed before I finally picked it up and I have kicked myself ever since for not having read it sooner. It may be a story about first contact with an alien species but couched within it readers will find a wealth of information about religion, philosophy, science, music, current affairs, sociology and human relationships. It is still one of my all-time favorites.
Russell herself admits that a book about a miners’ strike in the far northern reaches of Michigan is not an easy sell for either publishers or readers. Fortunately, I have read most of her previous books and she has made it onto the very small list of authors whose books I will buy sight unseen. I also recall once hearing an enigmatic protest song by Woody Guthrie called 1913 Massacre that has stuck with me over the years more for its confusing description of events that left me wanting to know more about what happened in Calumet, Michigan in 1913 and what role women played in it.
As to why others should read her book my best response is that if you haven’t read her books yet, you are in for a treat. If you have, you know what I mean. There are few authors who have never disappointed me. Russell is one. Her research is impeccable and her prose is inspiring. She brings the past back to life so adroitly that its easy to forget that many of her characters have been dead for a century or that they never existed at all. Whether it was the subject matter of The Women of the Copper Country or the current political climate, she has added a fire to her voice that I don't recall being there in her earlier works. I have been a union member for a grand total of one day in my life but in reading this book I felt inspired to get up and get out there and march and to learn all I can about such women as Mother Jones, Ella Bloor and Big Annie Clemenc, the star of this tale.
I highly recommend this book. I also want to thank the author for introducing me to the poem The Mask of Anarchy by Percy Bysshe Shelley and for including this memorable stanza in her book.
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number--
Shake your chains to earth like dew
We are many -- they are few.
*Quotations are cited from an advanced reading copy and may not be the same as appears in the final published edition. The review was based on an advanced reading copy obtained at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. While this does take any ‘not worth what I paid for it’ statements out of my review, it otherwise has no impact on the content of my review.
FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star – The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
We will meet Mother Jones whose indefatigable spirit will lend support and money. A Union organizers, and a photographer, and another woman who comes from afar, to support and bring a fresh infusion of cash. Most of all, we will meet Annie, and many other strong, amazing women. A grim novel, some scenes touch the heart, but all history isn't pretty. Most isn't. We meet a man without a heart or a soul.
Incredibly well researched, something this author is noted for, it brings us a time when workers had little power. I think sometimes we forget the horror these early unionizers went through to insure we were treated fair by employers. Strikes that led to changes in labor laws. Just like the women who fought to bring women the vote, these women, these workers should always be remembered.
ARC from Edelweiss.
Annie Clements had always been someone who helped others. Being a miner's wife she knew how they and their families could always use help in one way or another.
Because of the need, Annie banded together with the wives of the copper miners to stop the unsafe conditions in the copper mines and the deaths of loved ones by trying to get the miners to join the union.
The other and main theme was the strike called by the miners so the company would recognize the union and get better working conditions.
Annie and the other wives want the men to join the union so they can ask for shorter days and more pay for their dangerous, unhealthful work that only makes the owners of the mines rich.
We follow Annie and the families as they prepare to strike to get what they need for their families.
We get to see the personal side of this community, share in their sorrows and worries, see how they suffer at the hands of company owners who won't give into union demands, and see how they come together to help one another in times of need.
Most of the characters were easy to like and to relate to. Some were despicable.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, women's fiction, and learning about the lifestyle and hardships in the early 1900's both personal and work-wise, THE WOMEN OF THE COPPER COUNTRY will be a book you will want to read.
This book brought to light for me another not very well-known historical event about the plight of the copper miners and their families in Calumet, Michigan. All isn't pleasant especially when the strikebreakers come on the scene.
A good book always has me looking up more information about events taking place in the story line, and THE WOMEN OF THE COPPER COUNTRY is no exception.
Dr. Russell's thorough, in-depth research brought the reader into the town and homes of the Calumet families. 4/5
This book was given to me as an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Few people outside of Michigan know anything about our Upper Penninsula (UP). As a matter of fact, a recent Mt. Dew ad featuring a map of America drew Michigander's ire when the UP was colored to be part of Wisconsin!
The UP has its own peninsula jutting into the deep inland ocean of Lake Superior, the Kewanee Penninsula. And a short distance from the top of that arm is Calumet, Michigan. Today it is a village of about 800 people. But in the late 19th c when the UP was a center of copper mining there were 40,000 souls there.
The copper was mined for 120 years. It was break-backing, dangerous work. Waves of immigrants found their way to Michigan's lumber and mining industries. The UP was particularly attractive to immigrants from Finland but drew from across Europe. These unskilled laborers were put to use with a sledgehammer and shovel, and cheaper than mules, used to push the loaded cars.
Mary Doria Russell's new novel The Women of the Cooper Country recreates Calumet in 1913 in rich detail, drawing on actual people and events.
Called the Paris of the North, Calumet had grown into a modern town, built by the wealth from the Calumet & Hecla copper mine. But profit-driven capitalism meant management rejected worker's demands for a shorter workday, a living wage, and safe work conditions. A new drill allowed a miner to work alone instead of in pairs. It was a cost savings but put the men at higher risk.
The workers debated unionizing. An unusual labor leader arose, Annie Klobuar Clements, a miner's wife born in Calumet to Slovakian immigrants. She had seen too many families with maimed men and boys, too many funerals.
What is the price of copper? It was men's limbs and lives. It was men too tired to live, self-medicating with drink. It was widows and orphaned children. If the men would not organize, the women would lead the way.
Journalists made Annie the Joan of Arc of America.
Annie is helped by Eva, who over the nine months of the strike grows from a dream girl to a woman. Nationally known union organizers come to help, including 'the miner's angle' Mother Jones and the Socialist labor organizer Ella Bloor.
The mine is under the management of John McNaughton, and Russell's portrait of him as a cold-hearted capitalist fixated on the bottom line is chilling. McNaughton is a xenophobe whos anti-immigrant slant hardens his heart even more. In his view, Europe is gleefully exporting its 'wretched refuse' to America, and Washington has done nothing to stop the continual labor strikes across the nation. It won't happen here, he vows.
The novel had a slow start for me but picked up later. At times, I felt some distance from the events. A critical scene is off-screen when the emotional impact would have been greater through Annie's eyes. The story builds to a horrendous tragedy, describing a real event, with great emotional impact.
The changing role of women and their broadening choices is shown through the characters. And there is romance, from infatuation and unhappy marriages to illicit affairs and true love.
It was interesting to learn more about this slice of Michigan history and the history of unionizing in Michigan.
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
According to Russell, though, they also organized. At least in Calumet, Michigan they did. When male union organizers got very little traction with the workers of the Calumet-Hecla mining company, where death or serious injury happened weekly, the latest death, with the resultant orphaned children, is the straw that breaks the back of Annie Clements's patience. She organizes the women, and the union and most of the workers follow, if somewhat reluctantly. Annie is a striking figure, though (no pun intended), and the walk-out soon becomes national news, thanks to the efforts of an aspirational photojournalist.
All of Russell's characters leap off the page, as anyone who's familiar with her work already knows. Everyone from Annie to her anti-union husband, to James McNaughton, the manager of the mine, is shown to have at least one or two layers. Incidentally, Russell pulls no punches in her descriptions of McNaughton's callousness toward his workers, a characterization Russell assures us is firmly based in historical reality.
Russell is known for the quality of the research she puts into her books, and this one is no exception. But she also has the gift of communicating the knowledge she has accumulated without being didactic. Having turned her attention to the beginning of the labor movement, she treats her readers to a heart-breaking look at what it cost the people who fought for the rights of all workers.
The story takes place in Calumet, Michigan and centers around the lives of copper miners and the horrible conditions they had to endure in the early 1900’s. After one accident too many, the women decide they have had enough worrying over the safety of their men and gather together to bring about change.
Annie Clements, nicknamed “Big Annie” due to her height, emerged as the leader of the group of women. They join forces with the Union and begin to recruit members, eventually helping to orchestrate a strike that lasted several months.
Tensions rise as the strike lasts longer and longer, with several Union workers ending up getting arrested, injured or worse. The strike and Annie’s work with the Union also begins to take its toll on her marriage.
This is another great work of historical fiction that prompted me to find out more. Annie Clements was a real life American Labor activist and was inducted into the Michigan Hall of Fame. It’s so inspiring to read about women who made a difference in the lives of others and most especially the lives of the future generation.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review.
I love a book that entertains me and, at the same time, teaches me something about history. I didn't know much about mining in Michigan, so I was intrigued when I began reading. I came away knowing more about the time period and the fight that happened for better working conditions.
The blending of fact with fiction was excellent. I am thankful for the author's note at the end that explained what had really happened and what was fiction.
This is not for the fainthearted. Annie's husband is abusive. The tactics of strikebreakers are bloody. The treatment of suffragettes of the time is incorporated into Annie's arrest. Not to mention the tragedy that occurred five months into the strike.
I unreservedly say this is a fitting telling of the strong women who took on a copper baron! I would recommend this to readers of historical fiction based on fact.
I received a free copy through NetGalley for reviewing purposes. This book is due to be released in August, 2019.
Enter Annie Clements, the wife of a miner and a natural leader. When a miner is killed while working with the new “one man drill,” Annie mobilizes the women into a force for change. They begin holding daily marches, asking “what price copper?” by calling attention to the many lives lost in pursuit of profits. Their activism built support for unionization, which ultimately led to a strike. The way the strike unfolded, its impact on management and miners alike, and the way in which the strike came to an end, make for fascinating reading, all the more so since the story is told almost entirely from a female perspective.
Mary Doria Russell is known for writing meticulously researched historical fiction, and this is yet another example. Since women’s stories are less well documented, she often had to infer or extrapolate, but the Author’s Note helpfully acknowledges where this was required. Russell’s characters are well developed, and the story is well-paced, especially in its portrayal of the dramatic events which ultimately ended the strike. I can’t say enough about this book: just go read it, already!
This is an emotional novel about the workers who struggled with mistreatment by the rich owners and the people's involvement in the early labor movement in US work places. The strikes caused violence and upset in the strikers lives as they had to decide whether to continue their strike or give in to the owner's demands.
Annie Clements was a real person who led the strike at the copper mines in the years before WWI. She was a real inspiration who only wanted the betterment of the working conditions to help families. "What the union wants is simple. Eight hours for work. Eight hours for sleep. Eight hours for families to be together."
Author Mary Doria Russell delivers a rich telling of the people, place and time of 1913 Calumet, Michigan - the heart of Michigan's Keewenaw Peninsula and the richest Michigan city, in its day. Copper mining made it so rich, that back in 1890, the state capital almost moved there.
It's 1913. The winds of war are beginning to brew in Europe. Germany is flexing its muscles and the world's industrialists are smelling great revenue opportunities - none more so than the copper producers. Copper is a vital component in the brass casings of bullets and artillery shells and it clads the hulls of warships. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company has positioned itself well to fill those military orders. It considers itself to be a forward thinking and enlightened company. Heck, it even provides clubhouses, bowling alleys, and a library with materials in 20 languages to the miners and their families. It even matches the miners' contributions to the employee aid fund. (Of course, very view miners can even make that first payment given how little they make in the mine of the company town in which they live.)
The copper veins of the Keewenaw run deep beneath the ground. Every day, miners descend deep under the earth's surface and are grateful each day in which they can walk out of it. Meanwhile, the surface mines of the West are applying pressure on C&H's profitability and a one-man drill is born. Sure, it weighs 150 lbs and can only be wielded by the strongest miner but it allows management to cut the employee roster way back. The Miners' Union is against this new method as it forces miners to work alone thus increasing safety risk. It also takes away a lot of jobs of the dues paying members.
In walks Big Annie, Anna Klobuchar Clements, a larger than life woman (after all, she's of Finnish stock and over six feet tall). She is married to a miner. She's fiercely compassionate for the miners, their wives, widows and children. Following yet another death from the mines, she and her Women's Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners, Local 15, have had enough. It's time that H&C treat their employees fairly and improve work conditions - accept an 8-hour instead of 12-hour workday from each miner; 5 instead of 6-day work week, provide minimum wages, and improve the safety of each mine. Thus the famous strike of all mines in the Michigan Copper Country was called by the Western Federation of Miners in July, 2013 and Big Annie was out in front to lead it. At this point, this rich story takes off and the reader is in for quite a ride.
Ms. Russell has deftly produced a well written and an extremely well researched narrative of the mining life of the early 20th century. Many of the characters of the story are real people of history - Big Annie, Mary Harris Jones (known as "Mother Jones"), Ella Boor, Governor Woodbridge Ferris, and James MacNaughton - the heartless General Manager of H&C. Within her author's notes, she clearly shares where in the story she has created some characters to facilitate the flow of the story. She also provides references for the reader's further historical research.
All in all, this was an excellent piece of historical fiction and definitely worth reading. I look forward to Ms. Russell's other books, already of much renown.
I am grateful to Ms. Russell and Atria Books of Simon and Schuster for having provided a free advance, uncorrected reader's proof of this book through NetGalley. Their generosity, however, did not influence this review - the words of which are mine alone.
I know that Russell is known for her prodigious research into her subjects, which was woven seamlessly into the three aforementioned earlier books, and it's painfully obvious she's done her homework here too, with all the references to Governor Woodbridge Ferris, President Wilson, Mother Jones, Joe Hill, Ellen Bloor, Samuel Gompers and Clarence Darrow, the horrendous winter storms in the Great Lakes that year, as well as other historical events, such as the Suffragettes in London and US Marines fighting in Mexico, notable boxing matches, etc. The problem for me was all this historical "background" material tended to nearly bury whatever plotline and character development was there, and unfortunately there was not a whole lot of either. The villainous mine manager, James NacNaughton, remained rather one-dimensional, an evil "Oilcan Harry" type. And Big Annie, as a towering, flag-draped American Joan of Arc, while interesting at first, became less so as her story progressed, and seemed even less important after the climactic and tragic Italian Hall disaster, after which she seemed to just fade out and disappear.
Russell's attempts at making historical figures her own characters were not exactly seamless. Mother Jones and Ellen Bloor were okay, but Ferris not so much, which was disappointing, since I am an alum of Ferris State, and my wife was one a resident of Helen Ferris Hall dorm there.
Ah well. It took nearly two hundred pages to set the scene and introduce a perhaps too-large cast of characters, both real and fictional. The final hundred and fifty pages was a lot more interesting, but the post-disaster denouement, explanations and summing up dragged a bit. I was relieved to get to the end. There is a pretty good story in here, but it is nearly buried in often extraneous details. Not Russell's best. Cautiously recommended, especially for Michigan history buffs. (three and a half stars)
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
Mary Doria Russell's books have a habit of ripping out your heart and mind, and putting you back together again, hopefully wiser and more empathetic for the experience of it. This book is no exception, though to entirely explain why is to give away everything. I love her books; I can read only one a year. A phenomenal book that has everything I look for in a good historical fiction - wonderful characters, great sense of place, and an author's note that parses truth and fiction and gives me suggestions for what to read next.
The times were changing, and unions and strikes had been successful at other mines. But the unions tried to carefully plan their strikes in a way that would help ensure their success.
One day, however, in Calumet, there was one death too many. The women of Calumet, led by "Big Annie" Klobuchar Clements formed the auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners and compelled their men to immediately strike.
The stories of strikes and strikebreaking in the US are ugly – and this one is the same.
However, this one focuses on the women behind the striking men. Famous women leaders such as Mother Jones and Ella Reeve Bloor briefly step in to help. But the true force behind the men were Annie and the everyday wives and mothers, as they marched, kept the men strong, raised gardens and children and opened clothing swaps.
Big Annie was a true force of nature – and we see her determination and love.
There is a horrendous incident near the end of the book. I must have subconsciously remembered this incident or read a review – because I read this book with trepidation, fearful that something terrible would happen. And it did.
It takes some strength to read this one. But I learned quite a bit in this historical novel – not the least of which is that what seems like utter doom and failure can be the seeds of the progress you are seeking.
As always, Russell writes vivid, believable, and lovable characters, and the reader can't help but care about them.
Spoilers about the end of the book and how it relates to current events: [spoiler]The problem with writing historical fiction is that history doesn't always have a tidy and satisfying ending. Russell can usually pull a good ending out of history anyway, but in this case, the book kind of fizzles out at the end. I suspect that this reflects Russell's struggles with current events. Throughout a lot of the novel, I thought writing the book must have been cathartic for Russell: here was a young woman taking power, holding rich men accountable, and proving that underdogs can fight against corruption. You can almost picture Annie wearing a pussy hat. But then at the end, the strike fizzles out, the miners go back to work, and Annie's fate is uncertain. The most morally devastating part of the book is that the owner of the mine doesn't change at all: even Russell's minor characters are usually dynamic and experience some sort of character development, but the mine owner does not, and I suspect that reflects Russell's own frustration and despair in the Trump era.[/spoiler]
Russell's prose is rich with details, pulling us into miners' shacks and millionaires' mansions as she recreates this pivotal time in labor history. It is difficult sometimes for us to realize just how courageous these early protesters were to suggest that they had rights. Russell depicts the coldness of the bosses and upper class towards the workers, their belief in their superiority by reason of birth, and the casual violence they dispense to protect their profits.
Russell stays close to the historical events while providing information about larger history and personalities related to labor strikes. Mother Jones makes an appearance along with Ella Reeve Bloor.
And, Clements' maiden name was Klobuchar!
The author used a well researched, fact based framework to build the fascinating and poignant story of Anna Clemenc (Clements) and the people of Calumet during the U.S. labor movement era. Much of which, sadly, is still relevant today.
The copy I read included author's notes and a Q&A section, which was as interesting as the story itself. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in this portion of history and/or women's history.
If you're looking for a good book to read these days, I highly recommend The Women of the Copper Country.
The Copper Country of the book’s title is Calumet, a copper-mining town in Michigan‘s Upper Peninsula. But it isn’t really a town. It is really an area consisting not only of the mines but also 40,000 residents, homes, a fine business district, library, medical facilities, etc. It is owned entirely by the mining company, Calumet & Hecla, the employer of most of the men in Calumet.
During 1913 and 1914, Annie Clements organizes and leads the women of Copper Country whose husbands are members of the Western Federation of Miners union. She was even arrested during one prolonged strike that became violent when C & H sent in their strike breakers. She was also a survivor of a fire in Copper Country that killed 73 people, mostly children.
James MacNaughton is the general manager of C & H. He is so obnoxious and evil he seems to be a fictional character to make Annie and her women seem all the more saintly. But he really was that awful, according to Russell.
Russell introduces us to more characters, of course. In so doing, she shows us several different perspectives on life in Copper Country.
A review cannot do this book justice. Read it. You will learn so much, and you’ll enjoy doing it.
I am anxious to hear Russell speak about this. Some parts of the book seem almost unbelievable, and I’d love to ask her about them.
I had an event with her all arranged at my library. Then the pandemic and the lockdown preempted that. Michigan’s governor has started to open things up but not libraries yet. So we’ll see if and when we can rearrange it. Fingers crossed