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The Price of Bread and Shoes by Lonormi Manuel

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For the most part, this is a fascinating and authentic portrayal of the great challenges and fleeting rewards of coal camp living in the 1920s. But it goes beyond most books set in coal camps. This is the second novel I have reviewed that touches upon one of the most shameful practices of some coal camps – forcing into prostitution the wives of the men killed in the mines and the miners injured so badly they cannot return to work. They were given this choice as the only way they could remain in their company houses. That is the price they had to pay to buy bread and shoes. The protagonist is nineteen-year-old Alafair Siemore Slone who moves from her family farm in Southwest Virginia, to be with her new husband, Travis, in Chemane Creek, West Virginia, where we works in the mines before he is injured and becomes completely disabled. In her Acknowledgements, the author, Lonormi Manuel, writes that she was inspired to research and write this novel by Michael Kline’s article, “Esau in the Coalfields” which I published in the Summer 2011 issue of Appalachian Heritage which I served as editor at the time. The author, Lonormi Manuel, was born in Northeast Tennessee, raised in Southwest Virginia, and has lived in Kentucky for thirty years. She teaches in community colleges. This is her first novel.

Frankfort, Kentucky: Feisty Molly Press, 2022. 397 pages. Trade paperback.