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Gravedigger's Daughter

3.50  ·  Rating Details  ·  7,632 Ratings  ·  942 Reviews
From one of the greatest literary forces of our time, an intensely realized, masterful epic of a young woman's struggle for identity and survival in post--World War II America.
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
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Published August 7th 2007 by Books on Tape (first published 2007)
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Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. 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
Apr 02, 2009 Robin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 05, 2009 Christina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nate D
Jan 04, 2011 Nate D rated it it was ok  ·  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
Feb 21, 2008 Lori rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008february
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
Apr 30, 2008 Ruth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 10, 2008 Jenny rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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...
Dec 03, 2007 Deb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 09, 2012 Angie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

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
Apr 09, 2015 Hannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm still up in the air about whether I liked this book or not. I picked it up because I had heard of the author, but have never read anything by her before. It is the story of Rebecca, the daughter of German immigrants to America. The father was a Math teacher, but takes the only job that he can in America, digging graves. The family tries to assimilate to America, while at the same time maintaining their prejudices and believes about Americans.

The story is very violent as Rebecca deals with an
Lucinda K
Jun 12, 2013 Lucinda K rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Nov 02, 2012 Alisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Joy H.
Jul 16, 2009 Joy H. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 14, 2010 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 24, 2012 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 27, 2008 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 27, 2007 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
May 17, 2008 Tina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recently-read
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 17, 2010 Jinger rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Ksenia Anske
Dec 04, 2015 Ksenia Anske rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Raw and gritty and saucy and rich. And tremulous. And reflective. And melancholy. The prose of life, of American life. Of a woman, told by a woman. After this book I want to read everything Joyce Carol Oates has ever written.
Una historia difícil; una mujer marcada por su niñez y que casi nunca consiguió ser ella misma. "Seguir adelante" era su lema... sopreponerse y poner cara feliz.

Un libro introspectivo, donde conocemos la vida de una mujer que nunca dejó de ser "la hija", "la esposa", "la madre", "la amante"... y curiosamente nunca fue «la mujer».

Es lo primero que leo de esta autora y no le doy más estrellas solo porque hubo unas partes con las que no estuve de acuerdo, además de otras que tenían que haber pasado
Feb 04, 2016 Sunsette rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was utterly strange to me. The word "disjointed" comes to mind. It was kind of all over the place. One thing that irked me was the excessive use of exclamation (!) marks! I felt like an excited child was telling me a story that she was overly excited about! It was out of context considering the story's somber tone. Once I adapted to the bizarre style of writing, it wasn't half bad, but then the ending/epilogue killed it for me. It just petered out, and I couldn't help thinking "What wa ...more
May 26, 2012 Jen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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,
Jun 12, 2009 Kani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 17, 2009 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
This is a highly depressing novel of the life of an immigrant gravedigger’s daughter. It is told in extensive detail. You sink into the setting/environment and the story. The characters are deeply characterized; many are disturbed, and almost all are marginalized. About 2/3 of the way through the book, a relief factor is introduced that felt contrived. This to me was a major flaw, but it did break the spiraling descent. I went to a book discussion about this book. The people there who had read a ...more
May 05, 2016 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good once I finally got into it, but the beginning was a struggle. The middle suspenseful, the end brightened and concluded well.
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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
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