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The Land Breakers

(The Mountain Novels #1)

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  670 ratings  ·  112 reviews
A motley band of characters makes its way into a high mountain valley in northwestern North Carolina to tame the land or to be consumed by it. Five years of struggle to create a community ensue, in which part of the struggle is just to survive. This isthe story of late 18th century life in an untamed country.
Paperback, 356 pages
Published July 1st 2006 by Press 53 (first published 1964)
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Average rating 4.31  · 
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Diane Barnes
Dec 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
My father was raised in Boone, NC, in the far northwestern corner of the Appalachians of that state, about 30 miles from the Tennessee line. His parents had a hillside farm there, and I can just barely remember seeing my grandfather behind a plow being pulled by a mule. Plowing furrows on the side of a mountain takes some work, much different from a farm in the flatlands. This would have been in the late 1950's. I also remember some chickens, an old farmhouse, some apple trees, and blue skies ...more
What to say about The Land Breakers? I had a library copy of this book but ended up loving it so much that I bought a kindle copy to have and keep. This is definitely a favorite and had the feeling of authenticity while reading that I felt while reading The Tall Woman and The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War. When historical fiction is done well it is illuminating, educational, and can be uplifting even if harrowing.

There is a bear hunt that is heart-stopping. There was really no way to
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The New York Review Book group chose this story originally written by John Ehle in 1964 to be republished in 2014 calling it an important book that broke fresh ground and opened a new world for Southern and Appalachian fiction. Ehle , with ancestry traceable to one of the first three families to settle in the untamed western mountains of North Carolina certainly seems to have a good understanding of the struggles of those first brave souls who took up residence there. This, the first book of ...more
Jan 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-books
I doubt anyone will bother reading my reviews, but if they do, I imagine they'll think I never read a book I didn't love based on my last batch. Regardless, I'm sincere when I say that The Land Breakers is one of the most beautiful yet plainly-written novels I've ever read. I feel like I learned more about American history from reading this book than I have gained from years of history classes, and quite honestly, I think I gained more insight into the true meaning of living off the land than I ...more
Kirk Smith
I absolutely loved this book. I devoured it. Finished the story, read the epilogue, and stopped only after reading all the testimonials on the back cover. It is a saga full of adventure and made interesting by all of the adversity faced by pioneers, homesteaders, land breakers. Powerful determined people with no fall back route. Either conquer the land or die by failure. It is the history of America spotlighted in just one particular region, but it is also the great universal - the dominating ...more
Feb 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The Land Breakers is a great American novel, way beyond anything most New York literary icons have produced. And that is only one of several remarkable novels, though the one a reader new to Ehle should begin with.” Michael Ondaatje

I couldn't say it any better. This novel has great characters, great stories, and the historical setting is a story in itself.
When you finish the book, you will feel like any of the characters might pass by, and you'd just strike up a conversation. In fact, I've been
Apr 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Dialect of language and stark, yet practical, sensibilities of the early Western N. Carolina settlers during the 1780's center the tones of this tale. It's filled with context of rawest nature and seasons within the wild valley before the previously untilled flats and slope. It follows, basically, the 3 separate original families of settlers over a period of their earliest introduction to their Appalachian working homestead years. Men, women and children in their elemental sense of survival and ...more
May 06, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm puzzled at the positive reviews...let me give you a sample of the writing.

Page one : "They had been apprenticed out at eleven years of age to a family named Martingale, which had six children of its own but which had a lot of land to tend and a mill, which took much work."

Which which which...

Chapter two :

"Off in Virginia he had a plantation, not as good as the best in the country, but one rich enough. It was not the best, however, and he could not command the sort of respect he wanted in
A people of perseverance. I don't think you could find a book with harder working individuals. This is a great account of the founding of a settlement in the southern mountains. The writing is perfect and the story is fascinating. It makes you think about all the obstacles these "land breakers" endured and survived.
Favorite quote that sums up the book for me, "It was not that the family was making a machine that they could use; the family was the machine. The family and the clearing and the
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Up to the moment I opened to the first of this book, I was a stranger to John Ehle. Where have I been? Not only have I just completed reading a fantastic novel, but I have found that there is more of the story waiting for me to discover. This is book #1 in the so-called "Mountain Novels". I am anxious to begin the next in the series, "The Road".
This is a tale of how the mountains of North Carolina came to be settled. It's the story of a young couple who finally, after a few years of wandering,
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a great story with such vivid characters, this book has adventure,love, disappointment, murder, craziness, an ego maniac, bigamy, great heroism, terror, love, so much love, clear descriptions and top notch research. Highly recommend.
Jun 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: america
I think books like this tickle a spot that nowadays post-apocalypse and zombies tickles - the kind of books that let you imagine your own life in a "new" spot, one without any society to speak of, free to do what you want to do, with a chance to "prove yourself" (a hunt for self-reliance?).

The Land Breakers is the story of a new, small, faraway American settlement in the mountains of the 1780s. Over a few years the reader follows the new settlers in the harsh conditions, as they try and make a
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, america
Mooney and Ima Wright have recently finished their indentured servitude in Virginia, and travel south in search of a place to make their own. The year is 1779, and while a war rages up north, Mooney and Ima - and soon other settlers - try to carve out a life in an uninhabited Appalachian valley.

This book made me feel like a lazy piece of shit. The amount of work these people did just to have food on the table in the morning seems like more work I do in a week. Yet it's not all drudgery - as more
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very nice. Ehle’s simple writing flows perfectly with this gradual tale of late 18th century settlement in the Appalachian wilderness. A story about overcoming hardship; of defeating your failures and moving forward. It’s a novel about endlessly pursuing your dreams, and it’s a very pleasant read.
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Set in the Appalachian mountain wilderness between 1779 and 1784, this novel has been called one of the best recreations of our pioneer past. It was published in 1964 and I’d never heard of it until I read about it in the New York Review of Books, It’s one more example of why it’s worth it to read books that have been around for a while.

Mooney and Imy Wright, newly married after serving as indentured servants, leave West Virginia to head south and start a farm. In North Carolina they use all
Sep 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
First released in 1964 The Land Breakers spans from 1779 to 1784 when the first settlers went beyond Morgantown, West Virginia to homestead in the Appalachian Mountains. Mooney Wright was the first to break ground to start a farm and a variety of others followed. He has big dreams and isn’t afraid to work towards his goals.

Tinkler Harrison comes with his family. Tinkler has his own ideas for the settlement all the way down to its name Harrisonville. In his vision the only settlers that will be
Christine Underdown
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book completely changed my view of what it means to start over. It has made me think a lot on how prosperous we truly are and who we have to thank for it.
Chuck LoPresti
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Picked it up, life went on hold, read the whole damn thing in a few sittings. There's wisdom here in the wilds and woods of mountain settlements. I'm not sure who wouldn't like this book - it's well paced and there's a nice balance between adventure and a cerebral consideration of the motivations of the characters involved. It doesn't get bogged down with too much description, just enough to keep you engaged but never dragging you along by the nose.

I've read a few negative reviews that I simply
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very straightforward, simply written book that is chock full of life, work, sorrow, more work, love, death. It is a saga that takes place in five years in the 18th century in the North Carolina mountains. My birthplace is near the area and I could so easily picture the mountains, woods, and valleys. Can't wait to read the next.
Becky Loader
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
It has been a long time since I read a fiction book from 1962. While Ehle is writing about the 1780's, I still found a lot of anachronisms from the 1960's. I don't remember who told me to read this, but I found it a bit of chore to plow through. Great descriptions of the land and everyday tasks, but very romanticized.
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
I didn't really finish this book.
It got real boring.
Mar 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Six stars if you enjoy really detailed descriptions of frontier-like activities.
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Visiting the Asheville area this was a book that was always recommended to me but I kind of put it off. But, Ehle crafts a captivating and brutal story about settling in a very unkind climate. It's excellent in how it shows the difficulty in the wild and settling an area, with the bears, wounds and nature built against you. There is also Ehle's control if language that is both matter of fact and poetic. A great story.
May 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
According to Ondaatje, this book ranks as first-tier Americana, but for some reason, has faded into obscurity as the decades have progressed from its original publication date in 1964. Despite what one might think, the style is quite unlike anything written by the Canadian author. The narrative is straightforward and encompasses 4 or 5 years in the development of a community on a plateau in West Virginia. A very successful novel in my view.
All the characters are written naturalistically; Ehle
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: idlewild
Between 4 and 5 stars, and I'm rounding up for this tremendous saga set between 1779 and 1784 in the Appalachias of North Carolina. I bristle at the GR reviewers who blithely describe this as the Little House books for grown-ups (hello! wrong century and wrong geography!). But, yes, if you're looking for characters trying to make something from not much more than their own strength and will, this is the book. With the perfect title. Because they're not settlers. They're trying to be settlers. ...more
Janice (JG)
Aug 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written heart-stopping regional epic that takes place in the Appalachian mountain range as the first settlers and homesteaders break the ground for a new community. There are hints of Giants in the Earth in the hardships and struggles, and Ehle's style feels like Faulkner in his ability to live in the minds of these 18th century rural folks. There were times while reading it that I gasped out loud, I was so immersed in these people lives. As soon as I finished this novel, I rounded ...more
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great example of a book I probably never would have picked up had it not been put back into print and revived by NYRB. It is a brutal but warm-hearted tale of man against nature, set in the frontier land of Appalachian North Carolina. The story is great, but I think what distinguishes the book the most is Ehle's straightforward prose and his affectionate way with the many characters that populate the book. Definitely recommended.
Jan 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in stories about pioneer life.
Recommended to Lori by: a local librarian
I read this book on the recommendation of a local librarian as background research when my kids were studying pioneers. I learned so much from this book and it was so much more enjoyable to learn it from a story than reading a text on the time period. I will NEVER make a fire on rocks in the winter! Read it and find out why.
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Historical Fiction at its Best

Ehle's prose is almost like poetry; his grasp of history is tremendous. Read this classic novel of the settling of The North Carolina mountains in the late 1700's to really get a feel for what it must of been like to live in the wilderness. A classic.
Dona Krueger
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably my 4th reading since it was published in 1964 and, like a dear old friend it enriches me with each reading. The feel for the land and pioneers of the NC mountains is richly brought to life by John Ehle. Soft, green, desperate and terrifying - life as an early pioneer was one of great perserverence and a lasting gift to we the ancestors.
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John Ehle (1925-2018) grew up the eldest of five children in the mountains of North Carolina, which would become the setting for many of his novels and several works of nonfiction. Following service in World War II, Ehle received his BA and MA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he met the playwright Paul Green and began writing plays for the NBC radio series American ...more

Other books in the series

The Mountain Novels (7 books)
  • The Road
  • The Journey of August King
  • Time of Drums
  • The Winter People
  • Lion on the Hearth
  • Last One Home
“Only the strong knew what suffering was. The weak never found themselves in the strong webs; the strong man was the one who found himself day and night bound and struggling, so that the work he did, the plotting and the owning and the buying, the decisions he made—and in a large family there had been many to make—were often hard-fibered.” 1 likes
“What was his place? he wondered. Where was his world? He had sometimes stood on the riverbank and told himself: Deep down in the cold water is your world; a rock lashed to your feet is your clothing for that world. To enter it you need only to climb to the place above the rapids, where the pool is, where it is always calm, so it must be deep, and there bury yourself and leave a world that is not your own and find a garden, long fields already cleared and cribs already filled, a new place in which a weakness in a man is a matter for a word or chide, not a break through which the terrors of the world flow in.” 1 likes
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