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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW!! Best new book of 2005!
I picked up this book after reading several excellent reviews in various publications. Now that I've finished reading it, I'm going to add my own "excellent review" to the list!

This novel is so well written, there is something for everyone inside. The book follows the lives of a single family living in a small town in Pennsylvania from the 1940's through the...
Published on February 6, 2005 by JJ Stark

versus
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a Mining Town Post WWII
The novel recounts the saga of the Novak family, who live in a Western Pennsylvania mining town, and the mine functions almost as another character in the novel. The time period is post-World War II, when industry was king in America, which is a stark contrast to today. The men in Bakerton dedicated their lives toiling in the darkness of the subterranean world, and it...
Published on September 3, 2006 by Patricia Caiozzo


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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW!! Best new book of 2005!, February 6, 2005
By 
JJ Stark (Cicero, IL USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Baker Towers (Hardcover)
I picked up this book after reading several excellent reviews in various publications. Now that I've finished reading it, I'm going to add my own "excellent review" to the list!

This novel is so well written, there is something for everyone inside. The book follows the lives of a single family living in a small town in Pennsylvania from the 1940's through the 60's. Each chapter singles out one member of the family, telling the story from that character's perspective. We see how each family member grows and matures, and how the ever changing world around them effects each one, and the direction that their life takes.

There's the oldest son, Georgie who goes off to war & then rushes into an unhappy marriage, Dorothy who moves to Washington to escape the "traditional" job of a woman in the dress factory of Bakerton, Joyce who becomes the "parent" to the rest of the family, including her own mother, Sandy the rebellious son, who follows his own path without ever looking back, and the "baby" of the family Lucy, who observes the older members of her family and decides early on which paths in life she definitely does not want to take.

The author has done a wonderful job keeping the readers guessing, and turning the pages to find out what happens next. Nothing is predictable, and there are many "surprises" along the way. I've read some reviews here, where readers have criticized the "jump" from time to time - I didn't find this distracting at all, and actually thought it kept the story moving along at an excellent pace. The story's not dragged out, and time isn't wasted on insignificant events. My only "complaint" (if you even want to call it that) is that there are times in the story where a character will refer to a future event that hasn't happened yet, and as the chapter progresses, the story actually moves backwards, as if the character is reminiscing. The times that this happens, however, are done very subtly - sometimes the reader may not even realize that a future event has been given away!

There are also many nostalgic references made throughout the book - everything from radio shows to early TV to the kinds of cars the characters drive and the clothing they wear. I'm sure many will find the story a "step back in time" which is certain to bring back many happy (or not so happy) memories!

While it's still early in the year, I'd have to say that BAKER TOWERS is probably one of the best books of 2005! If you haven't read it yet, please pick it up, and if you have already finished it, I urge you to recommend it to all of your friends. I haven't been as excited about a book since I read the LOVELY BONES back in 2002! With the right kind of "word of mouth" publicity, I can easily see this one becoming just as popular!
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful portrait of 1950's America, January 4, 2005
By 
Bryce Eddings (blogcritics.org) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Baker Towers (Hardcover)
This book concentrates on the lives of five children of a mine worker in a small Pennsylvania town peopled by descendents of immigrants from Poland, living on Polish Hill, and Italy, who live in Little Italy, at a time when such distinctions mattered. It opens just before the US entered World War II and follows their lives into the Vietnam era. With unblinking eyes, Haigh shows us a world far removed from the myth of the fifties as the idyllic American decade.

Each child, as he and she grows, simultaneously despises and loves the company house in the company town that they all call home. One by one the siblings make their bid for life away from the little town but each is drawn back by obligation, necessity or love. Each struggles to understand their place in the world and to make the best of it. They are pulled between the traditions of their Catholic parents and community and the call of the exciting, growing world of the mid-twentieth century.

Haigh's style is what sets this book apart. With just a few simple words she can paint portraits of the town and its people that are rich with depth. Her characters are more than real as she takes you into their lives and makes you cheer with their successes and ache with their defeats. With love and honesty for her subject, Haigh creates a world that both tests and rewards in its starkness leaving the reader with is a breathtaking look at life - beautiful and terrible at the same time.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good read., July 8, 2005
By 
This review is from: Baker Towers (Hardcover)
BAKER TOWERS by Jennifer Haigh is a good, old-fashioned family saga, the kind you don't seem to find anymore. Even the cover looks like that of an "old" book. The impoverished Novak family and its five children struggle to get by in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania during World War II. As the war changes the world, we see how it changes the town and each member of the family.

The award-winning author has created a definite sense of time and place in this highly readable story. She writes beautifully and thoughtfully: "His old buddy seemed to him a kind of bookmark, holding his place in a life he himself had started but decided not to finish," says the book. And later, "Each disappointment had weakened her; losing hope was like losing blood. She could not survive another failure. Already she was hemorrhaging from regret." Ooh. Powerful language.

I'm happy to report that the women in the book are not just cardboard cutouts; they're complex and very real and reflect the changing roles of women. It isn't a perfect book, and it's sometimes sad, but it makes a very good read.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich Family Drama Set in Pennsylvania Coal Mining Country, July 7, 2005
By 
Antoinette Klein (Hoover, Alabama USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Baker Towers (Hardcover)
The Novak Family lives on Polish Hill in Bakerton. The city has other ethnic neighborhoods, and all the men work in the coal mines and life revolves around this. The two black piles of mine dirt rise high and symbolize good union jobs that keep food on the table and presents under the Christmas tree. These towers are viewed not so much as an eyesore but as a proof that the town thrives thanks to the mines.

There are five Novak children and as the reader follows each one's life, a picture of a family some might call typical and others might call dysfunctional emerges. The story begins when the father comes home from the Hoot Owl shift and drops dead most unexpectedly. Rose rears her children alone and they each have a story to tell.

The eldest, George, serves in the military and is exposed to what life beyond Bakerton is like. He marries well and forsakes the old neighborhood. His sister Dorothy, a bit unbalanced, works in Washington, D.C. but runs back to the comfort of home to be taken care of by her family. Joyce, the strong and brilliant sister, becomes the family's caregiver, looking after the mother and the other children and putting everyone else's needs above her own. Sandy, the younger son, is blessed with good lucks and unlimited charm. He disappears to exotic places like California and always seems to have plenty of money and a flashy car though he claims to be only a fry cook or some other menial laborer. Lucy, the baby of the family, is the only one who seems content with life in Bakerton, but is the one for whom a better life is possible and she is handed the opportunity to become a professional.

If you enjoy family sagas filled with diverse personalities, love stories, hardships and triumphs, you will revel in this nostalgic look back to what life was like in 1950's and 1960's America.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ultimately satisfying and compelling novel, January 22, 2005
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Baker Towers (Hardcover)
Although BAKER TOWERS sounds like it should be set in an upscale apartment complex or perhaps an exclusive prep school, it actually takes place in a less glamorous, but equally evocative, setting --- the small coal mining town of Bakerton, in western Pennsylvania. The "towers" of the title are actually "two looming piles of mine waste. They are forty feet high and growing, graceful slopes of loose coal and sulfurous dirt ... On windy days they glow soft orange, like the embers of a campfire. Scrap coal, spontaneously combusting; a million bits of coal bursting into flame." The Towers always remain in the background of the novel's action, a quiet but powerful reminder of the town's industrial base and, eventually, a reminder of its past prosperity.

Bookmarked by two major wars --- World War II and Vietnam --- BAKER TOWERS follows the fortunes of the Novak children in the wake of their coal miner father's death in the book's opening pages. Born to a Polish father and an Italian mother, the five Novak children seem to bridge the ethnic divides in their small town --- they live in a company house on Polish Hill, but grow up loving their mother's Italian cooking and customs.

Like many young people of their generation, the Novaks dream of escaping their small town. Handsome younger brother Sandy successfully and glibly leaves his industrial roots behind. Older brother Georgie, seduced by a life of wealth and glamour in suburban Philadelphia, escapes, only to regret his choice later in life. Sisters Dorothy and Joyce leave for a while, only to return after the outside world proves disillusioning or even dangerous. Only baby sister Lucy, whose talents and resources suggest that she would leave Bakerton at the first opportunity, truly chooses to stay.

As the five Novaks come to terms --- willingly or grudgingly --- with the hand their fate has dealt them, they find happiness in unexpected places. Their individual dramas and romances play out against the backdrop of a company town that is collapsing under its own weight --- first the company houses go up for sale, then the company store closes, the union goes on strike, and finally a catastrophic event changes the mine and the town forever.

As she did in her award-winning first novel, MRS. KIMBLE, Jennifer Haigh focuses on the trials and tribulations of women's lives, particularly in the years during and after World War II. With masterful plotting and small details, she brings to life the small joys and quiet desperation of the miners' sweethearts, wives and widows. If BAKER TOWERS has a fault, it is that Haigh, in effectively keeping five balls in the air, sometimes loses a grip on one or two --- it's not always clear how younger brother Sandy figures into the story, for example. However, readers will be more than happy to forgive a few dropped balls as they enjoy an ultimately satisfying, compelling story about a way of life that is fast becoming a thing of the past.

--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars unputdownable, January 5, 2005
By 
Steven B. Almond (Somerville, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Baker Towers (Hardcover)
now lookit: this isn't the sort of book i should adore, let alone read compulsively in two days. but i did. i can't quite explain its hypnotic effect, but it has something to do with haigh's quiet lyricism, her dogged investigation of how the life of a family proceeds. a truly stunning achievement.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars YOUR MAGIC CARPET TO ANOTHER TIME, June 10, 2008
This review is from: Baker Towers : A Novel (Hardcover)
For this reader Baker Towers held a very personal message. It reversed the passage of time and took me on a vicarious trip back to the small town of my youth. In describing Bakerton, Jennifer Haigh accurately captured the essence of small town America in the 1940's , 50's and 60's where parents from the "old country" worked hard in an attempt to ensure that their offspring would have a chance at the American Dream. Haigh's Bakerton could easily have been the small, predominently Polish, steel-mill town I grew up in on the South Side of Chicago. Its Baker Towers definietly brought back memories of steel waste poured down the hill adjacent to the mills that became the "slag heaps" that burned brightly and lit the night sky.

As for the members of the Novak family, they could have been the my cousins, or the kids next door, or some of my school chums.......all bent on leading more fulfilling lives than their parents. Like the Novaks, some stayed to live and work among parents, family and friends while others pursued other avenues and a life away from the mills. Yet no matter how far away they traveled or what their accomplishments, that small town would always welcome them home.

This bittersweet tale of our industrial past evokes not only feelings of nostalgia, but vividly presents us with an intimate look at a time in our history when family and friends worked together toward a common goal. This was the time before our manufacturing cities became known as "The Rust Belt" and we actually employed people to produced more than hamburgers, and finally it was a time when folks had a genuine love and pride in this country.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a Mining Town Post WWII, September 3, 2006
This review is from: Baker Towers : A Novel (Hardcover)
The novel recounts the saga of the Novak family, who live in a Western Pennsylvania mining town, and the mine functions almost as another character in the novel. The time period is post-World War II, when industry was king in America, which is a stark contrast to today. The men in Bakerton dedicated their lives toiling in the darkness of the subterranean world, and it chews them up and spits them out, blackening their lungs and making old men out of young ones.

Rose Novak is left to raise her five children, George, Sandy,Dorothy, Joyce, and baby Lucy, after her husband Stanley dies of a heart attack. George gets a taste of life outside of Bakerton and the mines during his stint as a minesweeper in the Pacific, and he never returns. His portrayal is a bit sketchy, and the reader does not really get a sense of who George is, other than he marries the wrong woman and does not even seem to know his own son. Sandy, the other male sibling, is portrayed rather mysteriously as some blonde-haired, blue-eyed ladies' man, who also leaves Bakerton and never returns. Again, the character develpment is found wanting.

Haigh paints a more adept and complete portrait of Joyce, who becomes the family matriarch, and she is the overresponsible daughter who gives up her dreams to take care of her mother and to make Lucy's dream of getting a college education come true. The self-sacrificing is a bit much, but perhaps that is more a statement about cultural expectations and mores for women during that period. Dorothy is portrayed as a silent wraith after she returns from Washington D.C., too fragile to cope with urban life.

The portrait of Rose is oversimplified and reductive. She is an Italian woman who adheres strictly to her Catholic beliefs, but she seems to spend her days cooking and stuffing herself with sweets after her husband's death. The reader is left bereft of any real connections to most of the characters. The strongest emotion I had was anger at George, who is married to a woman who leaves much to be desired, much of it due to her emotional instability, but George seems powerless to do much about anything.

The novel's strong points are that it is a very quick read, but similar to the old adage about eating Chinese food, it leaves the reader feeling rather unsatisifed and hungry for characters we could remember and hold on to. The novel surely has factual deficiencies, as other reviewers have deftly pointed out, but I still believe it is an accurate portrait of a time gone-by, and of a family who occupied a place within that spectrum, and at the end, as Haigh so poignantly puts it, "The town wore away like a bar of soap," as American is a much different place than it was in those post-war days of industrialization. The worlds of Bakerton are neatly and sharply divided: The Polish Hill, Little Italy, Catholics and Protestants. For the most part, people lived and died in the same small town their whole lives, adhering to the cultural norms set by the community. It is nice to be reminded of a time before our country became a sterile landscape of Starbucks, Home Depots and Walmarts, making one place look much like any other, but I certainly would not have wanted to live in Bakerton, and there really is no such thing as the "good old days."
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heartfelt journey through time, March 20, 2005
By 
David N. Taylor (Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Baker Towers (Hardcover)
I must confess that I don't usually care for the "domestic drama" genre of literature, which makes Jennifer Haigh's accomplishment with "Baker Towers" all the more impressive. I found her novel to be intensely powerful in a quiet, subtle, honest way that seems organic beyond any author's ability to construct. Her characters are so compellingly multifaceted that the reader feels an irresistible empathy, almost as though you are reading your own family's story.

Her novel begins with the life of a widow in a small Pennsylvania coal town and works its way outward, adding layer upon layer to each character as the years carry them forward. The ties of family, the shaping of individuals by both inherent traits and life experiences, and the continuity of the generations are recurring themes in Haigh's work.

But even that description is too clinical, too removed to properly express the wonder of this beautiful novel. I recommend it with the most heartfelt endorsement, and I look forward to reading Ms. Haigh's next novel in the not-too-distant future.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small mining town comes alive, January 25, 2005
By 
This review is from: Baker Towers (Hardcover)
I just finished Baker Towers this morning and have felt an emptiness in my heart since putting it down. I miss Dorothy, Lucy and Joyce! Jennifer Haigh knows how to write a character better than any modern author I have read in a long time. She draws you in to each of their lives, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary with her unpretentious prose. I really cared what happened to the Novak family and felt a sense of having been a fly on the wall watching a poignant family history unfold. Thank you Jennifer, and please hurry up with the next one!
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Baker Towers
Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh
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