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The Land Breakers

Set deep in the Appalachian wilderness between the years of 1779 and 1784, The Land Breakers is a saga like the Norse sagas or the book of Genesis, a story of first and last things, of the violence of birth and death, of inescapable sacrifice and the faltering emergence of community. Mooney and Imy Wright, twenty-one, former indentured servants, long habituated to backbreaking work but not long married, are traveling west. They arrive in a no-account settlement in North Carolina and, on impulse, part with all their savings to acquire a patch of land high in the mountains. With a little livestock and a handful of crude tools, they enter the mountain world-one of transcendent beauty and cruel necessity-and begin to make a world of their own. Mooney and Imy are the first to confront an unsettled country that is sometimes paradise and sometimes hell. They will soon be followed by others. John Ehle is a master of the American language. He has an ear for dialogue and an eye for nature and a grasp of character that have established The Land Breakers as one of the great fictional reckonings with the making of America.
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This opus about the settling of the Blue Ridge Mountains is, quite simply, one of the most important contributions to Appalachian fiction ever written. John Ehle portrays a terrain and its settlers with epic attention to detail, making the novel both a critical document of Appalachian history as well as a singular literary portrait of human fortitude.

About the Author

John Ehle (b. 1925) grew up the eldest of five children in the mountains of North Carolina, which would become the setting for many of his novels and several works of nonfiction. Following service in World War II, Ehle received his BA and MA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he met the playwright Paul Green and began writing plays for the NBC radio series American Adventure. He taught at the university for ten years before joining the staff of the North Carolina governor Terry Sanford, where Ehle was a "one-man think tank," the governor's "idea man" from 1962 to 1964. The author of eleven novels, seven of which constitute his celebrated Mountain Novels cycle, and six works of nonfiction, Ehle divides his time between Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and New York City. He is married to the actress Rosemary Harris, with whom he has one daughter, Jennifer Ehle, also an actress. Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and moved to Canada in 1982. She has written four novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, Mere (co-written with her daughter, Esta), and most recently, The Purchase, for which she received the Governor General's Award. Among her nonfiction books are A Dark Place in the Jungle: Science, Orangutans, and Human Nature and Who Named the Knife: A True Story of Murder and Memory. Spalding is an editor of the journal Brick and has been awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contributions to Canadian literature.


The Land Breakers is one of the best recreations of our pioneer past that we have had in years, honest and compassionate, rich and true...In a time of dreamless heroes, of long-winded whimpers that pass as novels, The Land Breakers has a rare degree of greatness. The New York Times John Ehle's meld of historical fact with ineluctable plot-weaving makes The Land Breakers an exciting example of masterful storytelling. He is our foremost writer of historical fiction Harper Lee It's what every novel should aspire to be: Red-blooded, broad, thrilling, and full of life and wisdom. Pinckney Benedict Sometimes raw as winter wind, sometimes gentle as a summer night, Ehle has made his land breakers a believable group of individuals driven by ancient hungers into a new country. Chicago Tribune Some of the best portrayal of eighteenth-century mountain settlement I've ever read. The book reads like living history, and I can only wonder how I've missed this author all these years...I could recommend this book simply for Ehle's vivid portrayal of the purely practical struggle of pioneering life, both its hardships and its frolics, its triumphs and tragedies-but it's also a riveting story, with scenes that will remain alive for me for a long time...more harrowing than anything I've read in a long while. Lori Benton It is raw and full of fine detail and fresh language, even if it is the language of doing, not reflecting, and man's true nature remains as opaque and violent as nature...In addition to being a damn good story, The Land Breakers is, for me, like finding the source material for countless articles in Mother Earth News. Don Silver Ehle's people, all of them, are splendid...Ehle's prose is exactly suited to his subject and setting. His people talk the way North Carolina mountain people talk; there is nothing stilted or artificial about his dialogue. And his descriptive prose is quite marvelous; it has an air of country formality and mannerliness that is thoroughly distinctive. The Washington Post Ehle is as scrupulous and effective in bringing to vigorous life the minutiae of daily events, the physical ordeal of mud-stained animals and men blasting, cutting and bleeding the mountainside, the sensuous lust and glow of a woman's body in the firelight, the delicate tracery of a mountain fern by a rushing brook, as he is in shaping his tale to a larger legend of man's spiritual quest, of building a road to Xanadu and to Zion. Chicago Tribune The Land Breakers broke fresh ground and opened a new world for Southern and Appalachian fiction when it was first published in 1964. A complex, compelling story of settlement and discovery, it introduced readers to Blue Ridge past, to explorers, families, the land. The land that is broken is itself a major, unforgettable character in this vivid, memorable story. Now, four decades later, John Ehle's novel still delights, still inspires, still leaves its spell on the reader Robert Morgan

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