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Hannah Coulter Paperback – September 30, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Susan Denaker brings twice-widowed farm wife Hannah to life with soft-spoken but resolute dignity. As the 20th century closes and a new millennium begins, the elderly—yet fiercely self-sufficient—Hannah reflects on her past, especially the crucial threads of family, community and the soil. Denaker does an especially effective job of portraying the other figures in the Port William Membership in a manner that fits the approach of the first-person narrative. She adjusts the octave and tone of the male and female characters of varying ages just enough to set them apart from each another, but listeners can be certain that Hannah maintains full control of her own storytelling. The experience evokes a sublime visit to a beloved grandmother figure with memories and wisdom to impart. A Shoemaker & Hoard paperback (Reviews, Oct. 4, 2004). (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
*Starred Review* For the first 40 pages or so, Berry's latest novel about the Kentucky farming community called, by its inhabitants as well as the author, the Port William membership, seems more of same. A good same, for few write American English more limpidly than Berry, and he has realized his characters as thoroughly as Faulkner did any of the people of Yoknapatawpha County. But as this telling of a farm woman's life in her voice continues--and voice it seems more than writing, so spontaneously speechlike are its cadences and the simple accuracy of its diction--it feels ever more poetic. Not gnomic and surrealist, like prose poetry, but flowing and long breathed, like epic poetry. Of course, the story it tells is epical, that of a heroine who expresses, in her living and doing, the essence of her people. Its character is domestic rather than martial; though, since its time span includes World War II, its trials include the MIA disappearance of Hannah's first husband and the ghastly combat experience of her second, Nathan Coulter, which Hannah learns of with any precision only after his death a half-century later. If its domesticity is more often happy and fulfilling, though, the cultural movement--the short, precipitate, ill-informed, poorly considered demise of the American family farm--over which Hannah's beautiful and heartbreaking story arches is as tragic as any war. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top customer reviews
At times you crave a bit more dialogue (because when the dialogue does come it's superb) and sometimes a little more action of some sort (any sort) wouldn't have gone amiss. But the warmth of relationships, the detail of character and the wonderful feeling for what humanity is are all worth patiently reading through.
I could have done without the details of Nathan's probable experience of the war; it comes very late in the book (even though we've been forewarned of it from the beginning), and seems to jar against the book's poise. It doesn't contribute greatly to the story, except I suppose to show that this man had such integrity he was able to hold all this inside him and not poison others with it.
If one reads "Hannah Coulter" simply for the language, which at times, is lyrical, it would be a pleasurable endeavor, but it is his ability to portray Hannah, the eponymous woman, as a young uncertain girl, an impassioned newlywed, a middle-aged mother, and a twice widowed 80-year old grandmother looking back on her life, reflecting on the losses, while remaining grateful and caring that makes this novel both endearing and enduring. Hannah is a woman you'll not soon forget, nor will you want to. Berry's social commentary, however, is not subtle, as he bemoans the loss of family life, the destruction of the environment, and the psychological and cultural effects of war.