The Gravedigger's Daughter
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Gravedigger's Daughter

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  5,729 ratings  ·  796 reviews

In 1936 the Schwarts, an immigrant family desperate to escape Nazi Germany, settle in a small town in upstate New York, where the father, a former high school teacher, is demeaned by the only job he can get: gravedigger and cemetery caretaker. After local prejudice and the family's own emotional frailty result in unspeakable tragedy, the gravedigger's daughter, Rebecca, b

...more
Hardcover, First Edition Hardcover with dust jacket, 582 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Ecco Press (first published 2007)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. RowlingThe Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniThe Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. RowlingThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Best Books of the Decade: 2000s
477th out of 4,626 books — 22,538 voters
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. RowlingThe Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniThe Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Best Books of the 21st Century
464th out of 4,579 books — 11,566 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

So what's the dark fear that lies in the inner heart of all erudite nerds? Namely this -- that no matter how educated, intelligent or well-read you are, there are always going to be a certain amount of very well-known authors you have never read at all, not even one single page of, and that at any mom...more
Robin
This book would have had much higher marks from me if it would have ended differently.

This is my first Joyce Carol Oates read and was for a face to face bookclub. In general I'm not drawn to "women in jepordy" stories but I'm always willing to give something new a try.

I was drawn to the character Rebecca and wanted to see her life work out for the better. And ultimately things did get better for her. She finally did re-marry although she was permenently damaged from her first husband.

The worst t...more
Madeline
I guess I liked this book, but reading it once is plenty for me. It was very well-written, but I just could not handle how ungodly depressing it was. Honestly, the main character can't seem to go ten pages without getting the shit kicked out of her (literally and figuratively) by all the Mean Bad Men in her life. First there's her father, who goes apeshit when his daughter dares to enter a spelling bee (I still don't get that); then there's her husband, who chooses beating the shit out of her as...more
Nate D
Jan 04, 2011 Nate D rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: the sadness of being a girl
Recommended to Nate D by: Christmas
Shelves: read-in-2011
I've not read a great deal of Joyce Carol Oates' copious publication list, but the Gravedigger's Daughter seems to be at the more reserved, conventional end of her spectrum. It is the story of a lifetime, a classic American lifetime from blighted immigrant upbringing to eventual success, or success-through-children as is often the case. In the meantime, much contemplation of the perils of being a women, and of being a single mother, and of being a foreigner. Of perseverance and the loneliness of...more
Lori
A character's worst fear should be to appear in a Joyce Carol Oates novel. It's pretty well guaranteed his or her like is going to suck.

Still, though, I keep picking them up. And as decently written as they may be, I'm miserable right along with everyone else. There's never a glimmer of hope, a break from the compounding gloom. As a reader, the weight lands firmly on your shoulders for the length of the book. Join us for a walk of pain.

Gravedigger's Daughter is no exception. I felt for the prota...more
Ruth
This was my necessary breezy read after the last one. It's the second thing I've read by this author, who seems to be really well-appreciated by the world, but I am still ambivalent about her work. It is easy to get into but also easy to fall right back out of- I guess that's what I will say. She is very prolific, though- it could be that I'm just reading the wrong things. This one is about a woman who has a really hard childhood and young adulthood and gets a lot of abuse, and then she goes on...more
Christina
This is a book about identity, about coming to terms with your past and being who you are. About family, battered women and their husbands. About the immigrant experience.

Oates details the story of Rebecca Schwart's life from her earliest childhood and on. Rebecca is the third child of poor, immigrant Jewish parents who arrived in the States in the 30 and Rebecca was actually born in New York Harbor, making her a US citizen as the only one in the family.

The book starts with Rebecca thinking back...more
Jenny
Once again, I must diverge from the critics who loved this Joyce Carol Oates novel. Apparently I didn't learn my lesson with "We Were the Mulvaneys." I don't know where to start, so I'll just list the major problems: a bloated and disjointed narrative, overwrought prose, and a nonsensical epilogue. Good times...
Deb
Joyce Carol Oates is probably our most prolific writer. I've read so many of her novels, and she always gets me in her spell. She often writes of troubled young women who become victims to brutish men because of making bad choices and having low self-esteem. She has killer lines, which she often uses as repetitive phrases or tropes effectively throughout the book. She can do so much in one line, for example:

"Mrs. Chester Gallagher
Each time she signed her new name it seemed to her that her handwr
...more
Alisa
The first half of this novel was so angry, practically dripping with Jacob Schwart's spittle-rage and Tignor's controlling misogyny! The unpleasant feeling of reading about all this anger, together with the deft anxiety-inducing plot, made me read fast, fast, fast, barely skimming some sections. It is a tribute to the author's ability that I kept reading at all. A less well-written book I certainly would've put down. But Rebecca's unique survival story, one in which she crafts a new identity to...more
Bruce
This novel is narrated by the main character, Rebecca, in the third person, primarily using free indirect discourse. Oates’ style is to make liberal use of sentence fragments, and these seem consistent with the FID approach. The initial section of the first of three parts of the book reveals Rebecca as a young woman of about 23, working in a sweatshop factory to support herself and her three-year-old son. Her husband, Niles Trignor, is often away from home at unknown locations for days and weeks...more
Debbie
I've read her short stories but this is my first novel. She can surely write. I love her style and while the story is quite graphic in its violence and abuse, it was not gratuitous, but necessary, handled well.

It was a story of survival, escape. One family escapes the holocaust only to confront isolation and prejudice in America, eventually leading a father to insanity and self-destruction. The journey of the surviving daughter reveals another from of persecution--the persecution of women/ a wo...more
Sarah
This story depicts the tale of the Shwarts who, in the mid 1930s, fled Nazi Germany and have been reduced to life in a tiny cottage while their father, a former school teacher, can only find work as a cemetary caretaker. Perceived and actual intolerance by members of the community only exacerbate the family's frail mental health and, ultimately, tragedy strikes when our protagonist, Rebecca, is only 13 years old. The reader witnesses Rebecca's trials of youth, her struggles to escape an abusive...more
Tina
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lucinda K
If there were six or seven stars to give them to this book, I would think that not enough! It has more than earned a place on my Favorites shelf. Now my favorite Oates novel out of the 20 or so (I lost count) of her books I’ve read.

And what is it about? A “Graveddigger’s Daughter”? Yes. But also memory, perspective, and history intersecting, specifically during and especially in the decades following World War II in a culture somehow drowning deep in and yet distant from the war's reality. It’s...more
Jen
To be fair, if we could give half stars, this would be 2.5. But I have to admit that my very first reaction upon finishing this was, "That was unsatisfying." Not just because the ending was wonky, but because the whole book was tortuous to read. I don't mean tortuous in the sense that the prose was awful or that the storyline itself sucked, but in the sense that it was very long (very long; I don't mind high page counts, but it shouldn't FEEL long, which this did. Often) and each character hurt...more
TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez
When I pick up a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, I want to feel I’m in the hands of a writer who really knows what she’s doing. Oates has published so many books, I’ve lost count of just how many, though I’m pretty certain this is her thirty-sixth novel. But even though I want to trust this author to take me on an interesting and unforgettable literary journey, there’s always been something about Oates’ work that won’t let me get truly involved. Some of her books, like Soltice, just leave me cold, w...more
Joy H.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Harry McKinley
For me The Grave Diggers Daughter is almost entirely a book of dichotomies; of contrast and harsh juxtapositions and so, indeed, is my opinion of it.

In plot terms it is the progression of one girl's life from blighted beginnings to a drastically altered adulthood, but in more philosophical terms the debate as to whether life is a game of chance or whether we carve our own destiny.

We follow Rebecca Schwart, born in New York Harbour, the daughter of Jewish WWII refugees. The family, as immigrants,...more
Laurie
This was a very hard book to read. It’s not that it is poorly written; it’s that the protagonist’s situation struck a raw note and was so painful for me to read about.

Rebecca Schwart’s life is all about fear. From the time she is a small child, fear rules her life. Daughter of immigrants who fled the Nazis, she lives in horrible poverty, her father being reduced from a high school math teacher in Germany to a cemetery caretaker in America. Understandably bitter by their reduced circumstances an...more
Kani
A tale of America at a difficult time in our history. This story is told without all the pieces, just like an adult's memory of a difficult childhood where the memories are pieces to a bigger puzzle. You only know what you know once others who knew are dead and gone and it's too late to ask. Some never had a chance to ask. This is a difficult and sad story that made me angry at my fellow citizens and at prejudice in my own heart when I see people who scare me or intimidate me or are "weird" in m...more
Melissa
I'm exploring the works of Joyce Carol Oates (though she writes so prolifically that this could take a lifetime). I chose this novel after reading a review of it in the NY Times. I agree with the reviewer that she is too long-winded, particularly in the first half of this 582-paged novel, but I found it worth reading nonetheless. I knew nothing of the terrible treatment Jews received in America (yes, America) during WWII and following, and this is one of the several topics woven throughout this...more
Dee
Rather a disappointing book! Repetition over and over :-) - of descriptions, of adjectives ("liquidy" - I didn't think it was a word either!),of phrases (people's eyes are always "snatching" at other people!), and god almighty, was the woman paid by the exclamation point? That's the only reason I can think of for the hundreds, maybe thousands of exclamation points sprinkled throughout this novel! Not in the dialogue, though, I think. You won't find any exclamation points there!

I finished this bo...more
Angie


Just finished. I'm guilty of needing books with "purpose". Not necessarily happy endings, but at least fulfilling on some level. This left me feeling empty and adrift. Not satisfied in any way. "We Were the Mulvaneys" was the first book I ever read by Oates. I thought it was magnificent. So raw and frighteningly truthful. It caused me to seek out her other works. But this...this left me wanting, and not in a good way. It actually gave me a headache. I don't know, maybe it was just too much of a...more
Joanne Kelly
I almost abandoned this book several times, but I am glad I kept going. The beginning is painfully slow and depressing, but Oates does a great job of really getting inside the head of a woman who has survived awful circumstances and whose thinking is constantly colored by those tribulations. Oates is obviously a master of her craft.
Nick Duretta
Brilliant, brilliant, but....as I approached the conclusion to this amazing novel, it just sort of...ended. I was expecting some sort of resolution or fulfilling conclusion, not the standard kind of course (this is Oates, after all), but...something. She does tack on a strange epistolary epilogue that does resolve one of the many unresolved plot points, but it just seems added on. I realize we never resolve everything in life, but I look at fiction as a way to work through that inescapable fact....more
Jinger
Aug 17, 2010 Jinger rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
Another epic story from Oates, but I really lost interest in it halfway though.

It infuriates me how no one in Oates's novels ever says what they feel or actually mean (as least not the antagonists). When a character comes along that does express himself, he's often made to look ridiculous and embarrassing. I can't help but think that these stories would be half as long if people just spoke candidly. I know that's not exactly suspenseful, but it's excruciating to read about someone sidestepping h...more
Bronwyn Hope
This book read like a first draft and was full of many of the things aspiring writers are told not to do - conflicts in voice that made it an absolute chore in the first half of the book; repetition; overexplanation; telling not showing and so on and so on. I found the book an irritating and forgettable experience overall. The continued third person voice was chafing in its inconsistency. From one sentence to another Oates weaves us inside and outside different characters' voices and it becomes...more
Jetmira
This is the type of book that gets you thinking about how your own life is so simple and thankfully, rather boring. I love books where you follow the main character for a longer period in their lives. Rebecca is only a kid when we get to know her, and we get to experience her entire life until she's old and gray.

What I loved about this book is that the author managed to create a very different type of character and Rebecca was the same kind of girl when she was 5 as when she was 35.

Great book!
Darla
A blurb on the cover mentions a heroine right out of "Hardy, Wharton and Dreiser" - I'll give them Hardy for the sheer bleakness of the story, Dreiser for the parallel of the fallen woman (with a nod to Hardy's Tess, too) but really can't see the Wharton link - there's little social commentary/criticism and Rebecca Schwart is no Lily Bart. Otherwise, a decent read, not one of Oates' best. Fairly long - over 500 pages.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
reaction 1 3 Mar 31, 2014 05:51AM  
The Transatlantic...: Reactions 2 2 Oct 18, 2013 12:55PM  
Disappointing 9 100 Feb 14, 2013 10:23AM  
  • Missä kuljimme kerran
  • Sukkwan Island
  • I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots
  • Cold Rock River
  • Away
  • Cost
  • The House Behind the Cedars
  • Entering Normal
  • The Well
  • Pennies for Hitler
  • The Way the Crow Flies
  • The Beacon
  • Jerusalem
  • At Lady Molly's (A Dance to the Music of Time, #4)
  • Under the Beetle's Cellar
  • The End of East
  • Fine Just the Way it Is
  • The Little Book
3524
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure...more
More about Joyce Carol Oates...
We Were the Mulvaneys The Falls Blonde Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang Zombie

Share This Book

“The danger of motherhood. you relive your early self, through the eyes of your mother.” 12 likes
“For the first time driving that day I could feel the motion of the Earth. The Earth rushing through the emptiness of space. Spinning on its axis but they say you don't feel it, you can't experience it. But to feel it is to be scared and happy at once and to know that nothing matters but that you do what you want to do and what you do you are. And I knew I was moving into the future. There is not PAST anybody can get to, to alter things or ever to know what those things were but there is definitely a future, we are already in it. ” 7 likes
More quotes…