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Why We Left: Untold Stories and Songs of America's First Immigrants Hardcover – May 1, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Brooks (American Lazarus) makes an intriguing case that, rather than a land of opportunity, colonial America represented a harsh sanctuary. Drawing upon the archives of colonial ballads, she describes the circumstances that propelled 400,000 English across the Atlantic in pre-Revolutionary times. Like today's country music, lyrics of that era relate tales of murder, rivalry, false promises, and cheating hearts. Brooks also uses her own lineage to illustrate the hardship of life circa 1770. With unprecedented population growth and an economy that shifted from subsistence to exports, 18th century England produced a new class of landless laborers, which included her forefathers. The old songs were kept alive by 20th century folk singers such as Davy Crockett Ward, his wife Lina, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Attie Crane, and Horton Barker. In the 1930s folklorist Alan Lomax moved his School of the Air radio show to Virginia to collect the traditional tunes now stored at the Library of Congress. That collection includes the ballad of Two Sisters and a Beaver Hat, which concludes: "Then young men have a care/of painted curled Locks. For such, though faire above, below may have the Pox." These ballads may be the best surviving records of what brought so many here. (May)
"Joanna Brooks compellingly recreates the lives of British peasants who came to the New World. She traces their collective memories through the folk ballads sung by their descendants and collected diligently by scholars and revivalists. Riveting, harrowing, Why We Left will forever change the way we listen to ‘folk music.’" —Charles McGovern, William and Mary
"Why We Left is an insightful, penetrating, sad, and yet delightful history of English migration to colonial America."—Journal of American Ethnic History
"A remarkable achievement, Why We Left is a story of the grim costs of modernity that left remnants in cultural artifacts - a fascinating journey through unique and creative readings into the lives of the early Anglo-American poor, indentured servitude, the Atlantic world, balladry, and the personal upheavals wrought by the earliest pushes of European colonialism."—The Register
"I would recommend [Why We Left] to anyone interested in looking at the “other side” of colonization."—Journal of Folklore Research
"Introduces an unexpected archive for American literary study: American folk ballads."—Resources for American Literary Study
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Top Customer Reviews
The only criticism I have is the actual writing style. She seems to alternate inconsistently between an academic style and personal reflection. This might work if there were clear breaks in the text (such as blocking or italics) but (at least in the Kindle version) this isn't the case. What's apparent is that she's not attempting to provide personal reflection, but that her writing is simply a bit inconsistent.
This doesn't really detract from the reading experience enough to make the book less informative or enjoyable, but it does, imho, prevent it from receiving 5 stars.