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The Gravedigger's Daughter

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  9,638 ratings  ·  1,144 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 h
Hardcover, First Edition Hardcover with dust jacket, 582 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Ecco (first published 2007)
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Average rating 3.55  · 
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Jason Pettus
May 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
(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
Helene Jeppesen
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was obviously a very beautiful book, coming from Joyce Carol Oates. It deals with Rebecca, the gravedigger's daughter, whose family moved to America just before the 2nd World War started. In many ways, this is a coming-of-age story because we get to hear about Rebecca's life from she's an infant till she's a grown woman. However, Oates' structure is beautifully puzzling as she starts the novel when Rebecca is in her twenties, on her way home from work.
This is a story about struggles and ho
Mar 01, 2009 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
Jul 03, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jenny M
Feb 10, 2008 rated it did not like it
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...
Feb 02, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Ksenia Anske
Sep 09, 2015 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.
Nate D
Dec 28, 2010 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
Dec 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Richard Harvey
Jan 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful multi-layered novel of penetrating psychological insight and human understanding from a master.
Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I reached for my first book by Joyce Carol Oates, The Gravedigger's Daughter, I must admit I was expecting a somewhat sugar-coated and sweetened novel about a poor little girl, daughter of refugees from pre-war Germany, who grows up being mocked and bullied by her peers. I was somewhat expecting a novel about pity and unfair treatment. Probably it was the book cover that added a lot in forming this wrong expectation of mine. And while in a sense, I did find pity and drama in this book, they ...more
Lucinda K
May 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 29, 2015 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
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was ok

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
Dec 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Gravediggers Daughter (2007)
• by Joyce Carol Oates

A tragedy. Jewish immigrants flee Nazi Germany and the daughter is haunted by the old world ways of her immutable parents.

The story begins in 1959 with 23-year-old Rebecca telling of her undying love for and marriage to Niles Tignor; a traveling salesman for the Black Horse Brewery; a man you do not say "No" to. Tignor is often away, days or weeks at a time and he's installed Rebecca in an old farmhouse near Chautauqua Falls, New York. Tign
Natalie Vellacott
Oct 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Well written but depressing

This lengthy novel relays the sad story of Rebecca Schwart effectively a Jewish refugee whose family emigrates to America during the Second World War. The family struggle as immigrants due to their reduced circumstances and attitudes of the natives towards them. However, this doesn't quite explain the turmoil within or the resultant tragedy which has ramifications for the rest of Rebecca's life. A sham marriage at 17 to a gangster/womaniser results in a child that she
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
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 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.
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it
The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates.

This book/story was just not for me. I listened to the first 4 CD's and had to send it back. It was just overwhelmingly sad with no light at the end of the tunnel.

The author is an excellent writer portraying each character in depth and their relationships to each other. The Jewish family narrowly escaping Nazi Germany only to find antisemitism in the New York area alive and thriving. The father, a former school teacher and well educated, could only
Aug 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Graham Wilhauk
What a letdown.

I LOVE JCO and this is one of her more famous books. However, I was just NOT into this. My big issue with it is that when I would get into it, it would shift to another time period in this family's history. I lost interest by the second time Oates did this to a major scale. I never like it when I come out of a book not liking it (no matter what the book is). It PAINS me to be disappointed by a book. However, I want to be honest and not give 4 and 5 stars to everything. Didn't hat
Irina Cebanu
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oates' style is the most beautiful I've yet encountered, non-sophisticated, but appealing at the same time. It's not plain, but not overabundant in complicated words either. The descriptions aren't boring, the story goes smoothly and the characters are 3D. Intrigued to read other Oates' books.
So, I read some of the reviews prior to listening to this story and was almost tempted to bypass this novel. However, contrary to what I read by others, I had a different take on this story considering this story is typically not in the genere that I tend to read or listen.

The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates is a well-written story of Rebecca Swartz, the central character who becomes a young married woman in her mid-twenties. The story captures her youth as a child, along with her Je
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Debbie Ann
Dec 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Joy H.
Jul 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
**4.5 Stars**

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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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