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The Grave of God's Daughter: A Novel Paperback – April 12, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006052507X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060525071
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,628,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A young girl uncovers dark family secrets in a haunting, evocative first novel by storywriter Block (Destination Known). In 1941, Hyde Bend is a tiny town on a sharp turn in the Allegheny River; its big employers are a steel mill and a pesticide plant, and virtually all its inhabitants are Polish Catholics. Dressing as a boy, Block's young, unnamed narrator delivers meat for the town butcher (she doesn't want anyone to recognize her) in order to raise enough money to buy back the Black Madonna, a family painting that's now gathering dust at the local pawn shop. The mystery of the painting is revealed through Block's detailed portrayal of the troubled relationship between the girl's cold mill worker father and her desperate, beautiful mother, both of whom do their best to avoid one another while raising the narrator and her younger brother, Martin. As a delivery "boy," the girl has a window into the town's other households, which proves especially useful when rumors start circulating about the murder of the town's tyrannical matriarch, Swatka Pani. Block deftly balances the subsequent murder mystery with a rich family and community portrait, revealing a treacherous, insular world that the narrator and her brother must constantly negotiate. As Block's narrator makes her way through the maze of secrets linking her mother and Swatka Pani, she also learns more about her family's tortured dynamic. Block's fluid prose makes the combination especially intoxicating, and her ability to uncover the shadowy, dangerous heart of a wartime mill town is just as impressive.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Block, author of the short story collection Destination Known (2001), sets her debut novel in 1941 in the small town of Hyde Bend, an enclave of Polish Catholic immigrants. The impoverished 12-year-old narrator, the daughter of a mill worker and a cleaning lady, determines to get herself a job when her mother is forced to pawn her favorite painting to make the rent payment. She persuades the kindly local butcher to let her make deliveries; enlists her beloved little brother in her scheme to keep her job a secret; and talks to a reclusive customer who has a secret related directly to her own family. Most of all, after one too many bitter fights between her parents, she recognizes that it will take a lot more than money to fix their meager, threadbare existence. Although Block seems to move inexorably toward a dramatic climax, it never pans out; instead, she offers here a view of poverty that rivals something out of a Grimm fairy tale, complete with rats in the outhouse and a hissing, feral landlady. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By James L. Hufferd on February 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found The Grave of God's Daughter an absorbing and magical journey to a time and place that was not only Lost Allegheny, Pennsylvania among hand-scrabble, insular, obsessively private and shriveled-spirited Polish Catholic immigrant stock, but a sojourn reminiscent in a hundred ways of an emotionally-starved and delimited childhood savored and endured anywhere, on any dark streets or backroads. The narrator is being metamorphosed by the gigantic events of her lived world into an ultimately-wise but scarred, brave and (in her case) empathetic, self-reliant but regretful young woman before reaching adolescence and awareness of what being a woman will mean for her. The narrative is spare because the milieu of her and the younger brother dependent on her emotionally is stark and spare, darkened by overpowering but realistic foreboding and fear, by a graniness and plainness that darkens the sky and stunts childhood itself. The author is to be highly commended for not straying outside the bounds of that sadly all-too-common, even prevelant, milieu in the larger world beyond our tinsel and fading affluence. Lest we forget! At times, toward the end, I was almost afraid of what I might uncover turning the page... I, a child of the rural small-town protestant and anglo midwest, by far happier of circumstance, was taken back to that other world.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Beverley Strong on December 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is such a beautifully written story, filled with wistful poignancy and underlying sadness. Two small children grow up in a small mill town near the Allegheny mountains, peopled with Polish immigrants and with cold, unloving parents who struggle to barely maintain a living. It's a bleak life for all the town's inhabitants and even more so for this small sister and brother who daily face the burden of poverty, hand me down clothes and a father who drinks. I was particularly moved by the little girl who was always desperately trying to please her mother, so as to get even a moment's recognition from her, only to end up feeling unloved and unwanted. At the centre of the town's consciousness is the shameful occurrence of the handsome and talented young priest who hanged himself in the the local church, to the total amazement and disbelief of the townpeople. This sad little story concludes with the daughter finally realising the cause of her family's unhappiness. It's not a cheerful read but a carefully crafted gem of a book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Natrona Boy on August 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This story about Hyde Bend is a mostly true account of the lives and people of Natrona, PA. I am impressed that Brett Ellen Brock had such detailed accounts of actual people and events. She appears to be too young to have lived these experiences herself, so she must have done extensive research.

The hard facts she reveals are absolute:

- St. Ladislaus cemetery's decay

- Slatka Pani, the "slum lord"

- Recognition of River Road (the main street in this tiny town)

- Mention of local taverns by their real names. Bars outnumbered churches by a ratio of at least 5 to 1

- The closed society of Polish immigrants primarily from Warsaw and Krakow

Through this book Block brings life back to what is now a decaying steel mill town which is rapidly eroding toward ghost town status. She contrasts the beauty and simplicity of small town life with the hidden secrets that lived and died in Natrona, PA.

This book brings back my reflections on a safe, carefree childhood combined with the mysterious morals and ethics my grandparents brought with them from war torn Poland - the pain that is ever-present in the eyes of the elders, but never discussed. The people who lived in "Hyde Bend" learned to celebrate the joys of today and bury the pains of the past. Brett Ellen Block brings this these hidden feelings to the surface in "The Grave of God's Daughter: A Novel".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By L. Nicolson on March 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
Excellent descriptive powers and some deeply expressive passages don't save this novel from being an inexplicable waste of time. We have a cold, harsh mother, terrified children and a horrific neighborhood to rival anything written by Dickens. It seems the poor have no compassion or friendship or even a moment of hope. A mother who appears to risk everything for her children doesn't want to be around them or even speak to them when they are. A brother jumps from a timorous childhood to alcoholic adulthood with barely a clue (he is accused of being a sissy). Our narrator, the young girl who lives in this Stygian hell longs for her mother's love and attention but spends most of her time avoiding her. We don't even find out what led to her adult circumstances. Even the title of the book seems an attempt to pull togther a concept that never works. And what was that whole side narrative on dog fighting? A lament on cruelty to animals? Okay....but it all just fell off a plank of dispair with the rest of the novel.

I have become increasingly discouraged by authors coming out of writing degree programs and workshops with all the skills guarenteed for publication while they lack the experience to come up with a compelling and moving narrative with characters we can care about. This was just an exercise in descriptive construction that left me feeling I'd lost valuable hours of my life that I will never recover. In fact I feel the same way about this review so I'm finished.
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