- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Wordcraft of Oregon, LLC (July 1, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1877655635
- ISBN-13: 978-1877655630
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,565,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
A Democracy of Ghosts Paperback – July 1, 2009
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
A brilliant and lyrical historical novel, Democracy of Ghosts conjures the affairs behind one of the most violent labor disputes in American history--the brutal killing of 21 scabs and coal miners at a strip mine in Southern Illinois in 1921. In some ways a horrifying cautionary tale for today's mining conflicts in the coalfields, Democracy of Ghosts explores the entangled love affairs between couples caught up in the great coal-mining strike that ultimately shattered a region, and turned one of the most radical communities into a social pariah. Griswold's narrative is riveting. This original novel deserves as large an audience as possible---pass the word.
--The Huffington Post
[Griswold] is able to describe the most violent scenes with the lyricism of Steinbeck, and he can effortlessly shift into the stark beauty of narrative like Truman Capote.... As in The Grapes of Wrath, many of Griswold's characters are...absorbed in day-to-day living but are still aware of their status as tiny parts...in the engine of a larger corporate machine. Unlike Grapes of Wrath...Democracy of Ghosts doesn't get caught up in Steinbeck's inclination towards melodrama and moralizing. Readers may uncomfortably identify with the characters in Ghosts.... Neither saints nor sinners, but possessing the qualities of both, the characters of A Democracy of Ghosts are liars, cheaters, killers, torturers, and opportunists; at the same time, they are loving, humorous, protective, and very human.
With iron and blood, it seems, and from the rich depths of the earth, John Griswold has fashioned a classic American novel, its dignified intonations of our young nation's sweat and tears evocative of the indelible storytelling of Dos Passos, Frank Norris, and Upton Sinclair.
--Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner and author of Swimming in the Volcano and The Immaculate Invasion
At times disturbing and tragically violent, always insightful, poignant and uncompromising, Griswold's riveting narrative is filled with complex men and women bursting with life. Fast-paced and powerful, Ghosts is an original ride told by a masterful writer.
--Duff Brenna, The Book of Mamie and The Law of Falling Bodies
Although it is a fictional study in persons involved in the [real] event...A Democracy of Ghosts gives one of the most acute and human insights into one of our area's worst moments.
Bas[ing it] on the 1922 Herrin Massacre, Griswold uses a variety of characters to recreate the atmosphere and detail leading up to and after the event. Although it features precise and haunting detail--you can almost smell the coal burning off the pages--Ghosts is not a historical account. It mines the souls of the region, creating a well-written and complex narrative that explores the heart of man.--The Southern Illinoisan
From the Publisher
A Democracy of Ghosts was named a 2010 Book of the Year by ForeWord Magazine. It also won the Eric Hoffer Award. Southern Illinois University's Friends of the Morris Library awarded Griswold their 2009 Delta Award for "writing with distinction on Southern Illinois," an award won previously by Robert Coover, Dick Gregory, and Senator Paul Simon.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The novel informs us about the Herrin Massacre of 1922 and the "trial of the century" that followed, but it's more about refracting that appalling episode of American history through the minds of a set of participants (including murderous ones). Still, you learn what happened, and you get the idea that (1) this was a signal moment in the labor history of the U.S.; (2) that what happened in Herrin did not lead to justice or atonement, and has never been properly processed; (3) that this was the last hurrah of the area of Southern Illinois known as "little Egypt," which had boomed long before Chicago as a rail and river transit center, and which at the time the novel is set was an important center for the mining of soft coal and associated labor organizing; (4) that the people who committed atrocities (described in imagery that at times faintly reminded of the Holocaust: trains, barbed wire) are more like you and me than might be comfortable for the reader. Bringing out this similarity seems to be a central point of the novel, and it is facilitated by the way the author handles narrative point of view and voice, which sticks very closely to his characters.
Again and again the reader is slotted into the point of view of a character who quickly grows morally problematic. The novel's prologue opens with in the first person plural: "We call ourselves Little Egypt, and we were born to greatness..."; but that "we" is really a "them" to the reader, those folks feel quite distant. This changes as the novel progresses, and after the slaughter, in a new twist on the "we" with which the novel opened, the reader is addressed directly and told s/he is part of that "we": "Listen: you won't like this much, but by reading this far you never stopped any of this either, so you're one of us now. And for that reason alone we deserve some small sympathy and understanding." When the author is overtly present at times (as in the citation immediately above), making analytical remarks that exceed the consciousness of characters to whom the narration is attached at the moment, the seamlessness of this is a real technical feat.
Another big stylistic feature is the novel's often elliptical mode of presentation. Sometimes it takes a moment to catch on, to figure out what's been left out; but you always can, and the overall effect, I think, is in synch with the handling of point of view: it's a very subjective, interior-monologue-ish narration that heightens our sense that this is a particular character verbalizing the world for him/herself. Other themes to watch: memory and forgetting (see all the related scenes of writing, in a journal, letters, newspapers, etc.). In one example of the novel's poetic logic, the democracy of ghosts named in the its title is echoed in the description of the cemetery where the brutal massacre is consummated: "The plots were filled with Herrins, Stotlars, and other founding names, and an American flag waved by the arched entrance. It was a beautiful place, a republic of stones." A democracy of ghosts: what we would rather not acknowledge, unwanted memories, returns of the dead; a republic of stones: the monumental, imaginary self, commemorating and reinforcing the image of who we want to seem to be.
Reading this novel made me think of recent talk of coal again being as big as it once was in Southern Illinois, with the help of new technologies for carbon sequestration that might lessen the environmental impact (global warming). And then I pictured all those gasses, buried deep in the earth, somehow getting back to the surface and wreaking havoc. Well, the novel does it much better, of course: "No, Sneed thought, usually we pump in water and sulfur to drown the memories. Then we cover the past over with bullshit and grow jokes on top. But the very ground under our feet is riddled with the wormholes, and sometimes entire houses fall into them."
It's a really good novel!
Thirty-three years old, cocky but innocent, Jim O'Rourke takes a job as a strikebreaker then spends his time writing letters to Mercy, the girl back home. Griswold pitches O'Rourke's gullibility against the eccentric antics of Prochnow whose fun, but sadistic humor leads to deadly consequences. Self-motivated, but still stricken over the loss of her first-born, Sally's grief is set against Bully Greathouse's jealousy and insecurities. Highly respected and trying to maintain order as tempers rise, protagonist William J. Sneed's affair with Shelley Brown puts his marriage to the test. Meanwhile, Cora Sneed attempts to assert her personal power, while, Shelley Brown, in turn, yearns for a new and better life.
These character's interwoven lives, contradictory flaws and desires collide with the tensions between miners and strikebreakers, resulting in the historic events of the Herrin Massacre. Written with objectiveness worthy of Chekhov, it's difficult to surmise whose actions Griswold's condemning. Instead, he sets the motives of the characters in motion, and allows the reader to play judge, jury, and executioner, making "A Democracy of Ghosts" one of those books you won't be able to put down.