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The Dollmaker

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  3,274 ratings  ·  464 reviews
Strong-willed, self-reliant Gertie Nevels's peaceful life in the Kentucky hills is devastated by the brutal winds of change. Uprooted from her backwoods home, she and her family are thrust into the confusion and chaos of wartime Detroit. And in a pitiless world of unendurable poverty, Gertie will battle fiercely and relentlessly to protect those things she holds most dear ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published April 29th 2003 by HarperCollins (first published 1954)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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 ·  3,274 ratings  ·  464 reviews

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Diane Barnes
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-reads, favorites
If I were the God of Books, then I would create a Book Hell, to which I would consign all the worst, most evil characters, who had caused pain and suffering and altered fates to the good characters by their actions. And Gertie Nevels mother would be the first one there, just so she could burn the longest. And yes, as is so often the case, religion and bible quotations were the catalysts.

This is a long and involved novel, so I won't go into plot details, but Gertie and her five children must lea
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I had been trying to remember the details of this book and the title, I read it years ago and was excited because the setting was in Detroit ( I live just outside Detroit)
After a few years of trying to remember the name of this book, someone just reviewed it on my feed!!
I need to read this again but it is definitely a 5 star read!!!
Cathrine ☯️
My response to this devastating work of literary art was no different to how I felt upon closing the pages of a John Steinbeck or Wallace Stegner. It will forever remain in my heart and soul and earns a place on my virtual 6 stars shelf.
The Dollmaker is the story of Gertie Nevels, a Kentucky woman who is uprooted from the home that she loves and forced to live in Detroit during the Second World War. It is a tragedy that springs from the loss of agrarian life to industrial labor, the misunderstands and lack of communications between spouses, and the burying of the artistic spirit and individuality beneath the struggle to simply exist.

There are dozens of ideas in this book that could be discussed and debated at length, but what k
Jan 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My Appalachian Writers professor mentioned that she knew of a few colleagues who were forming a club for people who could only read The Dollmaker once. I might be in that club. This book is long, but so rich and so well-written that I would love to read it again, especially from a spiritual/biblical perspective. On the other hand, there is such tragedy that this book takes an emotional commitment, one I can't imagine allowing myself to make again any time soon. This book is bigger than its genre ...more
Apr 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: appalachia, fiction
One of my favorite novels.This book still haunts me.

For regional writers: a fine use of dialect, without creating or living up to stereotypical renderings of characters from Appalachia.

For students of American literature: a rich, meaty example of the literary movement of natural determinism, ala Ellen Glasgow.

For those with Appalachian roots: It'll make you miss yer kin somethin fierce.
Elizabeth K.
Oct 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2007-new-reads
This book was depressing, didactic, full of despair and in parts, disturbingly graphic (and this review is brought to you by the letter D). That said, it was an amazing book and I can't believe I made it to this advanced age without reading it. A Kentucky farmwoman and her children reluctantly follow her husband to Detroit during WWII, where he works at one of the auto factories for the war effort. No kidding, these people can outJoad the Joads any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. Everythi ...more
Mar 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who loves books
Recommended to Debbie by: my mother
I read this book when I was 10 or 11 and cried all the way through it. I was mad at my mother for letting me read it because it was so sad, but later in life realized this book helped to shape me into the person I became. I have looked for this book off and on over the last 40 plus years and am very glad to see it is still in print and people are reading it. This truly was one of the best lessons about life my mother taught me.
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a book I read in college over 30 years ago and I still remember it. It was well written, but you may need to take anti depressants after you are done.
Apr 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: women, mothers
I rated this a 5 because I read it at least 15 years ago & it still remains one of my favorite books. A TV movie was made in the 80's based on it (Jane Fonda starred) -- did not come close to doing the book justice.
An Appalachian woman, along with her husband and children, moves to Detroit where the family hopes to find a better life. The setting is just after WWII when industry was in full swing. Main character carves wooden dolls, thus the title. Book is about leaving "home", culture shock, r
Jun 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book just made my "greatest novels of all time" list. Probably becuase it pretty much sums up my political ideologies in a simple and beautiful narrative. It was recommended to me by my grandmother-in-law and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone else. I dream to have a life just like the life Gertie Nevels dreamed of and only hope that my dreams won't also be squashed by the military-industrial complex that thrives off of unbridled capitalism and unchecked nationalism.

I found the theol
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I just saw this book on GR and remembered how very much I loved it. I read it soo many years ago-but as soon as I saw Gertie's name(main character) scenes from the book immediately popped into my head. The 5*s I give this book are in a different category than the 5*s I give to many other books.

I don't know if this book will stand the test of time -but I do know that when I read the book it totally knocked me out!!
I was surely too young for the content when I read this, but found the paperback around the house after the Jane Fonda movie came out in the 80s, and my parent, who worked in a steel mill just on the outskirts of Detroit, where we lived (also just by some train tracks - see where I am going with this?) and where the novel is also set, became kind of obsessed with it. (I thought, “Hey, it’s about dolls, sounds great!” - oops, not quite!) I was definitely semi-traumatized by the book, which I thin ...more
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Debby by: Rachel and Lugene - a BIG thank you!
Shelves: 5-star-books
WOW!! Amazing describes The Doll Maker perfectly! I was shocked to find that less than 1500 members of GR have read this highly rated book, especially since it was written in the 1954. That simply should not be the case. I would think that by word of mouth alone through the decades this book would have been recommended to hundreds of thousands of readers and even required reading in school. It should have nabame recognition and loyal fans like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, if you ask me.

Set in rur
Mary Soderstrom
Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it

The Dollmaker: A Novel about Detroit--and Ordinary Courage--During World War II

It took me a couple of days after the announcement of Detroit's very close brush with complete bankruptcy to remember Harriette Arnow's novel about life in Motor City during the Second World War, The Dollmaker.

First published in 1954, the story centers on Gertie, a strong, capable woman who moves with her husband and children to Detroit so he can work in the war industry. As a gripping story of what it was like to mo
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Kim by: cynthia fisher adams/paperbackswap.comc
Shelves: books-to-screen
came in the mail yesterday. it is really a good book to read. a must read for everyone
Larry Bassett
Jun 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
The Dollmaker opens with intense action that proves to be foreshadowing . A mother is taking her young son to a doctor; they are riding on a mule, the only transportation available in this emergency. Using the mule in desperation as a road block, she stops a speeding car on a back country road. As the son is suffocating due to a congested throat, she takes out her knife and with the unwilling help of the men in the car cuts a breathing hole in his neck. The boy does survive thanks to the determ ...more
Kathryn Bashaar
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is out of print, which is a tragedy, in my opinion. I first read it 25 or so years ago, when I was a young mother myself, and Gertie’s story touched my heart. I decided recently that it was time for a re-read, and it did not disappoint.
Gertie Nevals is a tenant farmer in Appalachia during WW2. She and her husband have 5 healthy children, and Gertie does most of the farming, while her husband Clovis hauls coal and “tinkers,” meaning that he is good with machinery and makes a few dollar
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's towards the end of WWII and strong self reliant Gertie Nevels has finally scrimped and saved up enough over 15 years to help buy her family their own farm in the peaceful Kentucky hills, freeing them from sharecropping and allowing them at last to have something to call their own. When the army passes up the service of her man Clovis and instead sends him to factory work in Detroit, Gertie is full ready to stay and run the family farm until the war ends, but her meddling mother convinces he ...more
Jul 04, 2008 rated it liked it
First published in 1954, this Dreiseresque novel chronicles the movement of a family from from rural Kentucky to Detroit during World War II. The husband (Clotis Nevels) works in a factory; his wife Gertie takes in laundry and occasionally sells hand-whittled crucifixes and dolls; the children amuse themselves in the backyards and alleys. Not surprisingly, the move from farm to factory slowly kills both people and spirits. Although there are occasional positive social interactions in the family' ...more
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I believe Joyce Carol Oates recommended this book either in the forward or in a review. In any event, I never would have discovered it otherwise. The author introduces the reader to the world of rural Kentucky during a time of deep poverty and despair. It's a tough read as some awful stuff happens but, at the same time, it's a book you won't be able to put down. There was one moment when I was literally sobbing so hard that I had to stop reading. It's fiction, but the book paints a true portrait ...more
Lynn Joshua
Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The unforgettable and tragic story of an Appalachian family lured to Detroit by the promise of high wages. Living in the heart of the industrialized north during WW II, Gertie, the strong and good wife and mother, shows determination and grace as she struggles to adjust while her dreams of self-sufficiency and personal freedoms shrink and perish. Her family is forced into dependence on the machine of industrialized society which relentlessly destroys their independence and dignity.
It's a classi
“Gertie for the first time really looked at the rows of little shed-like buildings, their low roofs covered with snow, the walls of some strange grey-green stuff that seemed neither brick, wood, nor stone. She had glimpsed them briefly when they turned into the side road, but had never thought of them as homes. She had hardly thought of them at all, they were so little and so still against the quivering crimson light, under the roaring airplane, so low after the giant smokestacks.”

It is the ea
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
The author was my grandmother's cousin. Grandma had all her books, and frequently spoke admiringly of her cousin's writings. I inherited the books when my grandparents passed and finally sat down to read The Dollmaker this spring. I wish I had done it before. In the story of Gertie and her family, I think I caught a glimpse of my family's life in the 40s.

This was a powerful portrait of a woman and her family caught in a great cultural shift. I was carried along with Gertie in her journey from t
Shannon The Show Stopper
It's been years since I read this book but I can say this about it without a doubt...It's a masterpiece! I cannot encourage you enough to read this book.

Jan 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
It is a fine writer who can make you love being miserable.
Stephanie Jane
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

I know it's still only the very beginning of March, but I feel certain The Dollmaker will turn out to be my Book Of The Month. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be my Book Of The Year too. It's that amazing! I was completely immersed in every page of Arnow's writing and it is rare that a book grips me to this extent throughout, especially one of over 600 pages. I don't understand why Harriette Arnow isn't world famous. Literature of
Jan 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Another of my "most favorite" books and one that I do believe everyone will love. It is the type of book where the characters stick in your memory for long after the words have been read. I would go to bed in the evening thinking of the characters and wondering what they were doing ... they are that real! I have read this book several times and it is fresh each time. ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
For me, this novel was very reminiscent of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in its depiction of one family’s struggles to adapt and adjust to a new setting and situation where there are daily external and internal conflicts. We certainly see this with the Nevels, and Gertie is the one who tries to hold everything together. In the same vein as a Steinbeck novel, there is certainly an aspect of emotional investment on the part of the reader as we watch the efforts of one family to overcome financia ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every couple of years or so, a contemporary publisher “rediscovers” a classic. Most successfully, this happened to Stoner back in 2013. Now it is the turn of The Dollmaker by Harriette Simpson Arnow, a 605-page doorstop that reads like something half its size, about the struggles of hill farmer Gertrude Nevels as she adjusts to life as a factory worker’s wife in WWII industrial Detroit. Vintage has just reprinted it, with their inimitable red spine, and if there’s any justice (which, of course, ...more
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Harriette Simpson Arnow (July 7, 1908 – March 22, 1986) was an American novelist, who lived in Kentucky and Michigan.

(from Wikipedia)

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