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The Green Age of Asher Witherow
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The Green Age of Asher Witherow [Kindle Edition]

M Allen Cunningham
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Supplying a quarter of San Francisco’s coal, Nortonville of the 1860s-70s is a flourishing empire in small, seeming to promise unending prosperity and a better future. But beneath the vibrant work ethic of its Welch citizens lies an insidious network of superstitions.

A missing boy first brings these dark undercurrents to light. Then young Asher Witherow falls under the spell of an unorthodox apprentice minister, stirring a whirlpool of suspicion and outrage. Soon Asher finds himself trapped in a nightmarish crucible, all the more excruciating because he himself could end it if he could only find the strength of will. This is a lesson the missing boy has taught him, and what he understands instinctively from the alluring Anna Flood, new to Nortonville, who with her raw sensuality and independence seems to offer some hope of redemption or even escape.

In this powerful debut from a young writer of stunning talent, M. Allen Cunningham takes us into a time and place at once gritty and magical, when the future seems filled with promise but where the day’s labor is bone breaking, numbing and always dangerous.

Gorgeously written, historically authentic, The Green Age of Asher Witherow is a novel of tested loyalties, of condemnation and redemption. The characters’ deep emotional lives are complex and vivid, fluctuating from the doomed to the transcendent. As he unpacks his heart, Asher comes to realize that all his early traumas have somehow bonded him to the land surrounding Mount Diablo and infused his life with an inward wealth—a treasure at which we can only wonder.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A miner's son is immersed in the dark spirituality of an insular, mostly Welsh Northern California mining town in the mid-19th century in this gritty coming-of-age debut. When Asher Witherow is eight, he witnesses the burning of his best friend, Thomas Motion, in a horrific accident as the boys explore the caverns of nearby Mt. Diablo. Witherow hides his knowledge of the accident even as a search is mounted, a situation that intrigues Josiah Lyte, the boy's bizarre schoolteacher and local preacher who eventually gets cast out by the populace for integrating Hindu elements from his upbringing in India into his work. Much of the novel deals with Lyte's mystical influence over his precocious pupil, but some years after the accident Witherow also enters into an ill-fated romance with his "evening friend," Alice Flood. Cunningham does a superb job of capturing the grim rhythm of life in the mines, balancing that material with fine childhood character studies. Occasionally, the author gets carried away and the spiritual material turns lurid, but the beauty of Cunningham's naturalistic prose and the strong characterization of young Asher Witherow make this a worthwhile debut from a noteworthy new author.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

First novelist Cunningham writes no semiautobiographical coming-of-age story, but a thoroughly researched and accomplished historical novel. Its unusual structure and richly descriptive, evocative language display a mastery that is surprising in a novelistic debut. Although the plot follows Asher's early life in a largely chronological manner, the book's five sections ("Earth," "Blood," "Bone," "Ash," "Earth") define his life episodically and describe three disastrous events in his first 20 years. The narrator's voice-- wry, compassionate, and detached--examines, reviews, and interprets the actions and emotions of his invincibly innocent younger self. Memorable characters people the Nortonville, California, community, contributing texture and weight to the story. Most impressively, Cunningham depicts the rigors of life in a frontier mining town--especially the physical hardships--and the fragility of humans living in harsh conditions. The darkness of events and the elegance in structure and language will make this book satisfying to readers who enjoyed such books as Robert Morgan's Gap Creek (1999) and Annie Dillard's The Living (1992). Ellen Loughran
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 369 KB
  • Print Length: 280 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1932961003
  • Publisher: Unbridled Books (October 1, 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0060LTMKC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #561,501 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisitely written first novel September 18, 2004
The early buzz on this debut novel serves up terms like: "poetic intensity"; "strikingly beautiful prose style"; "unerring instinct for storytelling"; "a startling accomplishment"; and "lushly talented". I will state emphatically that Mr. Cunningham's first novel is all that and much more. This is a literary novel in the finest sense of the word, magnetic and seductive from first word to last.

Asher Witherow's story is told in first person. Young Asher is the only child of Welsh immigrants. His mother, Abicca, is strong, matriarchal. Father David works in the Black Diamond Mines circa the 1860s. Life is harsh and sometimes cruel for folks living in the dreary confines of the Contra Costa County California mining country. Miners work long hours below ground and their children join them at a very young age. Young Asher is no exception. He's a bright boy, curious and irrepressible. Death is witnessed at every turn, and stoically accepted as a necessary part of life in hard times. Asher's outlook is influenced by a young ministerial apprentice, Josiah Lyte, who wishes for the boy a better life. Friends Thomas Motion and Anna Flood bring life-changing influences to Asher's world. Present throughout is a strong sense of time and place, beautifully expressed.

The elderly Asher recounts his life in retrospect. His own words state best what life has been. "...I know the great black hole won't receive me till I've tied my guts into sailor's knots over regrets and dreams and other torments I'm helpless to alter."

It's impossible to adequately review such excellence. I've given you the bare essence of The Green Age of Asher Witherow. Readers who appreciate fine literary fiction or the classics simply must read this book. Those who enjoy American history and well written tales will find it exemplary. This is a book to be savored, written by a gifted wordsmith. It has my highest recommendation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This book is definitely not for everyone, but the thoughtful reader will find much to savor. In chapters cycling from earth, blood, bone, ash, and back to earth Asher Witherow, winnowed out as special by the unconventional clergyman Josiah Lyte, experiences these elements in his first twenty years. There is a constant dichotomy and juxtaposition in this book. The spiritual and the earthly, the inner and the outer. Life inside the mines and outside the mines. Life and events inside and outside the self. The exposing of the earth's soul and the exposing of the human soul. The darkness of the mine and the darkness of night.

Although a history of mining life in California in the 1860s-1870s is presented, this is not typical historical fiction. This book is way more unique and philosophical.

My only caveat is that in the first half of the book I kept forgetting that the child narrator was just a child. Usually this irritates me, but because he is presented as highly intelligent the author manages to pull it off. All in all this is a stunning first novel published by a small press.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant November 20, 2006
Here is a novel with the power and brilliance to enter into the heart of the reader. All the elements of great literary fiction are found in the pages of "The Green Age of Asher Witherow." The voice of the narrator looking back many decades to his boyhood could alone have carried this novel. But in addition to voice, the novel also offers a plot involving unforgettable characters who influence and change the boy forever.

One such character is Josiah Lyte, a young would-be Christian minister with a deep and haunting understanding of how life and death can hold hands and dance around each person. His presence holds an ambiguity in the eyes of the people of the town, whose version of Christianity is more literal and monotheistic than Lyte's: Lyte becomes the object of suspicion, even as he draws the narrator, Asher Witherow, closer to him and to a vision of life that is radical and renegade. The interaction between the two is arresting; Asher reflects: "I didn't tell Mother or Father that Lyte and I had spoken again. The confidence flared inside me wit the irresistible thrill of sin. It was so alarmingly simple not to speak, to clutch the secret deeply and own it all myself. The clutching grew delicous." In this relationship the reader can see and feel how we are pulled toward another person for inner reasons we don't fully understand; we can also see, even from the early pages of the novel, that this relationship of Asher's green age has stayed with him and become a part of his soul.

So to his relationships with his boyhood friend Thomas and his first young love, Anna, stay with him: these relationships are beautifully, poignantly drawn, as is his intense and watchful relationship with his parents.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow November 18, 2005
By Craig
This is without a doubt the most atmospheric book I've ever read. It was a great story, but even if it wasn't I don't think it would matter. The chapter where Asher's friend 'expires' (I don't want to give too much away) was like reading a nightmare. This is the best first book I've ever read. I'm definitely looking forward to his next.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Amazing January 3, 2005
A beautifully written book. It seems impossible that this lush and melancholy novel was written by a 26 year old. A must read for both those who love contemporary fiction and those who complain that it is too vapid and fad-oriented.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars From the eyes of innocence
I learned so much about the history of coal mining and the Welsh immigrant experience. The perspective of a young boy brought an objective innocence free of analysis or judgement. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Diana Grove
5.0 out of 5 stars Mount Diablo
Great story line of death, untold secret and hard life in a coal mine in northern California in the late 1800's. Historical detail is fascinating. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Sally MooreGoldman
3.0 out of 5 stars By many means a good book.
I would like to let everyone reading know that I have no intention of putting down this book or the author in a negative way. Read more
Published on August 29, 2009 by K Brennan
4.0 out of 5 stars Well writting... even a bit odd
I think this book was well written. I could identify with the main character... with his life being in this town.. only to return later to find NOTHING. Read more
Published on March 20, 2008 by B. Darrell Jennings
5.0 out of 5 stars From Publishers Weekly
A miner's son is immersed in the dark spirituality of an insular, mostly Welsh Northern California mining town in the mid-19th century in this gritty coming-of-age debut. Read more
Published on July 1, 2007 by Kashley Entertainment
3.0 out of 5 stars Green Age of Asher Witherow
Beautiful prose and some interesting flirtations with nineteenth-century philosophy. For me, though, in the end there's not enough story here to make the book memorable. Read more
Published on January 21, 2005 by K. Freeman
4.0 out of 5 stars compelling look at late nineteenth century Welsh-Americans
In the 1870s, preadolescent Asher Witherow, being of Welsh descent, works alongside his father in the mines of Nortonville, California. Read more
Published on October 3, 2004 by Harriet Klausner
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