PLAYING ST. BARBARA is an historic look at a time period in American History that was very dramatic -1929 to 1942. It is a family saga that is about changing lives and thinking; coming into a new age as well as a new decade. Marian Szczepanski is writing about the historic experiences of her own family in a fictionalized tale which condenses all that history and change into one family’s story. Playing St. BARBARA would make a wonderful Masterpiece Theater Presentation and series to teach a segment of our history.
Our tale undertakes to tell the story of an Irish Immigrant who takes a German wife and proceeds to lie about her origins. Fin does not succeed as a professional baseball player but becomes a miner determined to unionize his co-workers in the company town. He is a rabble rouser, extremely poor, and addicted to alcohol and violence. He has produced 6 children but the 3 boys have died of crib death, violence and poverty. Fin is furious.
The story in about the 3 daughters and how they free themselves from the state of extreme violence in the family and within the mining community, when the door opens for each of them in turn to act the role of St. Barbara in the yearly pageant they discover a new freedom. St. Barbara is the patron protector saint of miners. Each opportunity opens the women’s voices and assists in setting them free to make their own way in the world. The women in the mining community have a special bond between them. They attempt to protect and assist in providing for each other. They help out if the KKK ruins the garden or burns crosses, and they provide nourishment to each other. Some even cross the alley to the black section of the miner’s housing. They all shop at the company store and each woman hopes their husbands will be able to move up the hill to better housing and pay.
To have all these historic events combined into one family story is at times overwhelming. I had to set the book aside when they started into WWII and the hatred of the Germans and the Jews collided. There was so much depth and detail I needed a breather. To feel the fear experienced by this mother and her daughters was very intense and it certainly parallels many of the changes that are being made today. The public hatred of immigrants is so present today and the coal wars are different but right here again. As the story was about building up the Steel Industry in the USA – we now purchase most of our steel outside our country boundaries, and we know the terrible side effects of coal for everyone. I think I needed to put the book down, because I was saddened by how we have not made much change in the decades beyond and yet yes! we have made astounding changes. PLAYING ST.BARBARA is quite the read and is a wonderful story about the importance of the mine workers then and now.
Marion Szczepanski received her MFA from Warren Wilson College in the Appalachian Mountains. I went to school there also, that was a nice discovery. She is the granddaughter of Coal Miners and this is her first novel.
It was a privilege to read this novel for review and I am very happy that the author and TLC online book tours sent me a copy. I am quite sure you will enjoy reading – PLAYING ST BARBARA.
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