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Harpsong (Stories & Storytellers Series) Hardcover – May 15, 2007


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Product Details

  • Series: Stories & Storytellers Series (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806138238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806138237
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,692,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Set in Depression-era Oklahoma and drawing inevitable comparison to The Grapes of Wrath, Askew's novel presents the best and worst of humanity in its depiction of hardscrabble lives lived during the Dust Bowl. Sharon Thompson is only 14 when cocksure wanderer Harlan Singer steals her heart and takes her on the road. The pair hop freight trains all around the heartland, earning pennies with Harlan's miraculous and captivating harmonica skills. They encounter both greedy authorities and kind strangers, including a run-in with some railroad police that almost kills Harlan, changing his and Sharon's life forever. Askew's command of language is a pleasure to behold, bringing out the pain and wonder of her story with a bittersweet immediacy.
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Review

“Set in Depression-era Oklahoma and drawing inevitable comparison to The Grapes of Wrath, Askew's novel presents the best and worst of humanity in its depiction of hardscrabble lives lived during the Dust Bowl. Askew's command of language is a pleasure to behold, bringing out the pain and wonder of her story with a bittersweet immediacy.” —Publishers Weekly

More About the Author

Rilla Askew was born in southeastern Oklahoma, a fifth generation descendant of southerners who settled in the Choctaw Nation in the late 1800's. Askew's roots go deep in the Sans Bois country, where her family still lives, but in 1980 she moved to New York to pursue an acting career. She soon turned to writing plays, and then fiction. She's the author of four novels and a book of stories, including her award-winning novel about the Tulsa Race Riot, Fire in Beulah. In 2009 Askew received an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her latest novel, Kind of Kin, about the family-fracturing consequences of a state immigration law, is published by Ecco.

Customer Reviews

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Sometimes disturbing as good people struggled during the Depression, Harpsong is an anthem to the human spirit.
Amazon Customer
Oklahoma, like much of the Midwest, was suffering from drought and the Depression, when Sharon saw Harlan Singer coming up the road.
E. B.
Beautifully written, beautifully conceived, a literary novel with a bit of magical realism as well as historical realism.
Jan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Harpsong. The title sings as does the story. Sometimes disturbing as good people struggled during the Depression, Harpsong is an anthem to the human spirit. Harlan Singer, a wanderer like so many of that era, steals the hearts of the Thompson family and their daughter Sharon. Soon he and his fourteen-year-old bride are part of an odyssey with others riding rails, hitchhiking and all with no particular destination.

Unlike Grapes of Wrath--a mostly incomplete account of Oklahoma during the Depression--Harpsong was written by a native Oklahoman, not a carpetbagger who never visited the locale written about. Rilla Askew tells a wonderful and desperate story of those who stayed behind to deal with their fate.

As one unnamed speaker says: "The Joads wouldn't have left out from Sallisaw or anywhere else around here on account of tractors and dust. They might have left, but it wouldn't have been due to tractors and dust, no matter what some stranger might have wrote in a book. Truth is, some left, but most stayed, dumb as lambs to the slaughter maybe, but we were determined to live with the devil we knew. That devil wore a few different faces."

With Harlan and Sharon, we live in hobo jungles, Hoovervilles and ride the rails in a giant figure eight with Oklahoma in the pinched middle. Always returning to Oklahoma, but never coming home, Sharon follows Harlan on his search for a somewhat mystical and mysterious friend. Along the way, Harlan Singer becomes another folk hero.

Harpsong is a love story blended with history, folk tradition, adventure and renewal. The harshness of the times and the generosity of those with anything to share is also part of the story.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cindy Hulsey on May 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Rilla Askew writes about Oklahoma like no one else. In this novel, she perfectly captures the longing and despair, as well as the love and fragile thread of hope that keep Harlan Singer and his child bride Sharon moving, as they ride the rails, going nowhere during the hard days of the Depression. Askew's prose is lyrical (and every bit as good as Toni Morrison's and William Faulkner's) and resonates with beauty and pain. This novel will haunt you long after you turn the last page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By E. B. on December 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Oklahoma, like much of the Midwest, was suffering from drought and the Depression, when Sharon saw Harlan Singer coming up the road. He was looking for work, but he wasn't much of a worker. Dark-haired, green-eyed and possessing a certain charm, fourteen-year-old Sharon was quickly smitten, as was he with this naive young girl. Basically a good man, but one haunted by the past, he took Sharon from her family and married her. They lived on the road, riding the rails, thumbing rides, and were nearly always hungry. Harlan carried a harmonica and could coax from it music that spoke to people, and with his charm could make himself the leader he desired to be. He loved Sharon and she loved him, but the bride of a homeless man has no bed of roses to lie on. Harpsong is an excellent story, well written, and one that immerses the reader deep into the characters' lives.
Eunice Boeve author of Ride a Shadowed Trail
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
At the age of 14, Sharon Thompson runs off with Harlan Singer and marries him, knowing nothing of his early life. They live on the move as Depression Era hobos. Sharon misses her family and longs for a more settled life, but Harlan is always haunted by his past. They stick together riding the rails in Oklahoma and the surrounding states.

Rilla Askew is a lifelong Oklahoman, and clearly a historian. She uses Sharon and Harlan's peregrinations as a way to give the reader a tour of 1930s Oklahoma and Texas. They pass through the hobo jungles, and the railroad yards where the bulls ruthlessly seek out tramps in the train cars. They see the towns emptied by bank foreclosures, and the farms and homes of good people barely hanging on but willing to offer drifters a meal and a place to sleep.

Askew conveys the feelings of hopelessness, desperation, hunger, and fear of the future experienced by all levels of society during the Depression. Her descriptions of the dry, flat, hot landscape really stayed with me. I could almost feel the grit between my teeth and smell the cinders of a passing train.

The writing is very literary, but not the least bit flowery or strained. Only an Oklahoma native could make Sharon's voice ring so true to the place and time.
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