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The Women of the Copper Country
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Archive: Other Books > The Women of the Copper Country by Maria Doria Russell -- 5 stars + ♥

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Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7644 comments The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell
5 stars + ♥

Russell's latest book was many things: an incredible story of fighting for fair working conditions; hard to read due to the oppression of the poor, immigrant miners; illumination of yet another fearless woman who has been largely lost to history; and a reminder of the origins of unions and the important role that collective bargaining can play.

Put all of these aspects together and you get The Women of the Copper Country, a book that will definitely make my Top 10 list this year.

Anna "Annie" Clementc was born in Calumet, Michigan. where her father worked for Calumet and Hecla copper mines. But, Calumet and Hecla did not just own the mine. Like many mining operations of the day, it owned the town, it owned the businesses, it owned the law enforcement, it owned the people in a feudal system that was impossible to break out of.

Annie grew up in this town, she lost her parents in this town, she married a miner in this town. Her world was small, but she saw the injustice. The injustice of being paid just enough to put food on your table, but not enough to provide comfort or options. The injustice of working in extremely dangerous conditions where safety measures were unheard of. The injustice of dying in the mines only to have your children forced to take your place. Many people saw the injustice, but Annie spoke up and took action.

As the President of the women's auxillary, Annie inspired miners to join the union. She then encouraged that union to strike. She became the face of a movement, inspiring support and donations from people around the country. While the events in Calumet County really took place over only about a year, and ended in the Italian Hall Disaster (which I had never heard of!).

I loved that Russell brought to life not only Annie Clementc, but also the mining industry, unions, and strike breakers of the time. She highlighted the role of immigrants, the greed of early corporate America, and the shady underbelly of company-owned towns.

This is not a light book; my heart literally ached at the end of it. But, it is an important historical--albeit fiction--account of events that we would do well to remember.


message 2: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7107 comments I just picked this up yesterday-now I have to fit it in to the rotation, I only have it 3 weeks as 6 people are waiting for it. I have visited this area of Michigan many times.


message 3: by Jgrace (last edited Sep 05, 2019 08:39AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jgrace | 2709 comments It was a very good book. I didn't quite want to give it 5 stars and I'm not sure why. Maybe, it was because the stark realism was so disturbing. The book needed some glimmers of hope, but a few of those side plots didn't feel completely natural. (view spoiler) Very sweet, but it felt like fantasy compared to the realism of the rest of the book.

A minor complaint, though. I did think she was brilliant to make the photographer a significant character to highlight the importance of photographic reporting ( and photographic propaganda, as much of it certainly was. )


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7644 comments The endings to the side plots didn't bother me at all. It didn't even really register with me that it would be implausible because those people, especially the Wrights, weren't super famous at that time, right? Hull House likely was, but probably not the same level as it is today. That was at least my thought process! lol

I also liked the photographer part, but did you read anything about Clementc online? I didn't do a deep dive, but read the Wikipedia page and she was certainly unlucky in love! After reading about her series of abusive husbands, I thought that her life was the one that was really stretched by Russell to make happier than it was.


Jgrace | 2709 comments I somehow think that there's not much more info on her life after Calumet than Wikipedia reports. Russell had to fill in a lot of gaps.


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7644 comments Jgrace wrote: "I somehow think that there's not much more info on her life after Calumet than Wikipedia reports. Russell had to fill in a lot of gaps."

I agree, but I believe I read that her second husband was also abusive. And Russell talks about that in the epilogue a bit, I guess. I felt like Russell really spun the story that Annie was in love with Michael and he was this great guy who loved her for who she was. And, then they ran off together and it left you with the impression that they lived happily ever after.

And it is totally artistic license, and was actually a much needed positive aspect in the midst of all of the dreariness!

I also wonder how she got her divorce in 1914. Pretty sure alcoholism and abuse were not grounds for a divorce back then! At least not when it was the man who was at fault!

Regardless of the liberties taken--it is historical fiction after all!--I learned so much and was so impressed by Annie and the women she worked with.


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7644 comments Also, totally different topic, but I also was really touched by Jack's (I think it was Jack) comments about how Mother Jones made a comment about the men not having the courage to take action when MJ was talking to Annie at Annie's house. And Jack made the comment (paraphrased) that men didn't have the option to take action. They had to do what was necessary to support their families right then, and that meant going down into the mine which was dangerous and terrifying and not a place that anyone would choose to be.

That part made me tear up as well and reminded me that sometimes the most oppressed persons do not have the ability to take a stand because they are too busy trying to just stay alive.


Jgrace | 2709 comments I know I'm being unreasonable with my objections. Most of this book is so historically accurate, I find myself poking at the few things that are clearly fictional. I have no trouble at all swallowing every bit of a regency romance that doesn't come close to historical accuracy.


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7644 comments Jgrace wrote: "I have no trouble at all swallowing every bit of a regency romance that doesn't come close to historical accuracy.."

Hahaha! You know I am the same way!

And great, now I want to read a regency romance....


Booknblues | 5305 comments I thought the romance was fitting because as we know things may start out well and go sour .

I was sad that it didn't work out for her in real life.


message 11: by NancyJ (new) - added it

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 4887 comments Excellent review! I'm really looking forward to this. I really like this author. I have a couple other labor union books on my tbr, I might put together a little theme month for myself sometime soon. I don't imagine Labor Unions have a chance to make our Tag list. The first college course I ever taught was Labor Economics and Labor Relations. The first half was a killer, but the students enjoyed the second half. I haven't read much fiction about unions, though I've seen many movies. I think a couple of us have a book about a Chinese silk union on our Trim lists.


message 12: by KateNZ (new) - added it

KateNZ | 2207 comments This sounds like it would totally be in my wheelhouse - thanks Nicole !


message 13: by Karin (new)

Karin | 6878 comments I read two of her novels but keep dragging my feet about reading a third because of the darkness and horror of the first of the two (it took me YEARS to read the sequel and I am happy I did). She is such a gifted author. Is this as dark as The Sparrow?


Booknblues | 5305 comments I did not find it as dark as The Sparrow, but there are definitely some dark passages in it.

This could possibly be a spoiler by Russell did let it be known that she would include The Italian Hall Disaster in the book. Look it up if you are curious and not concerned about the spoiler.

I knew it was coming and I was still disturbed by it.


message 15: by Karin (last edited Sep 08, 2019 02:26PM) (new)

Karin | 6878 comments Booknblues wrote: "I did not find it as dark as The Sparrow, but there are definitely some dark passages in it.

This could possibly be a spoiler by Russell did let it be known that she would include The Italian Hall..."


Thanks, you have said enough :). I have enough going on IRL that I am avoiding dark fiction as much as possible right now (not totally), and haven't really been into darker fiction since my youth when I enjoyed a lot of heavy literary fiction and darker fiction in other genres as well.


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