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Hannah Coulter: A Novelby Wendell Berry
Synopses & Reviews
A return to the fictional town of Port William, Hannah Coulter is the title character's lucid recollection of her long full life.
"Ignorant boys, killing each other," is just about all Nathan Coulter would tell his wife about the Battle of Okinawa in November 1945. Life continued as some boys returned from the war while the lives of others were mourned. Nathan's wife, Hannah, has time now to tell of the years since the war.
In her eighties, twice-widowed and alone, Hannah shares her memories: of her childhood, of young love and loss, of raising children and the changing seasons. She turns her plain gaze to a community facing its own deterioration, where, she says, "We feel the old fabric torn, pulling apart, and we know how much we have loved each other." Hannah offers her summation: her stories and her gratitude for membership in Port William. We see her whole life as part of the great continuum of love and memory, grief and strength.
Hannah Coulter is the latest installment in Wendell Berry's long story about the citizens of Port William, Kentucky. In his unforgettable prose, we learn of the Coulters' children, of the Feltners and Branches, and how survivors "live right on."
"'This is the story of my life, that while I lived it weighed upon me and pressed against me and filled all my senses to overflowing and now is like a dream dreamed....This is my story, my giving of thanks.' So begin the reflections of Hannah Coulter, the twice-widowed protagonist of this slim, incandescent novel in Berry's Port William series. In 1940, the precocious, innocent Hannah leaves her small Kentucky farming town to work as a secretary in nearby Hargrave, where she meets Virgil Feltner, seven years her senior, who gently courts her. They marry and have a daughter, but Virgil, 'called to the army in 1942,' dies in the Battle of the Bulge. Love follows mourning, as a kind but driven farmer, Nathan Coulter, returns from combat and woos Hannah. In delicate, shimmering prose, Berry tracks Hannah's loves and losses through the novel's first half; the narrative sharpens as Hannah recounts her children's lives — Margaret becomes a schoolteacher with a troubled son; Mattie ('a little too eager to climb Fool's Hill') flees rural life to become a globe-trotting communication executive; Caleb, Nathan's hope to run the family farm, becomes a professor of agriculture instead. Beneath the story of ordinary lives lies the work of an extraordinarily wise novelist: as Hannah relates her children's fate to her own deeply rooted rural background, she weaves landscape and family and history together ('My mind...is close to being the room of love where the absent are present, the dead are alive, time is eternal and all creatures prosperous'). Her compassion enlivens every page of this small, graceful novel. Forecast: Berry's reputation as a moralist may put off some readers, but those looking for an impassioned, literary vision of American rural life and values will find much to appreciate. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Atmospheric and quietly moving: a tale that manages to avoid outright bathos as it makes its way along the narrow boundary between memoir and nostalgia." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Berry is at his best when his characters' competent, self-sufficient lives are thrust against the brutal forces of modernity....Hannah Coulter is set in the latter half of the past century, but like the best contemporary fiction, it is informed by our present moment." Seattle Times
Hannah Coulter is the latest installment in Wendell Berry's long story about the citizens of Port William, Kentucky. In his unforgettable prose, readers learn of the Coulters' children, of the Feltners and Branches, and how survivors "live right on."
Hannah Coulter is Wendell Berry's seventh novel in the Port William series of novels and his first with a woman as the main character. Now in her eighties and living alone, Hannah as her way of giving thanks looks back at her life. Her journey through time leads us to a new understanding of her family, neighbors and friends those who have stood by her for decades. Through them all she comes to see herself as part of a great continuum of love and memory, grief and devotion. Wendell Berry has has written a novel of great depth and strength that will remind you that he is one of America's finest novelists.
About the Author
Wendell Berry is the author of over forty books of fiction, poetry, and essays, including The Unsettling of America, What are People For?, Another Turn of the Crank, and Citizenship Papers. He has farmed a hillside in his native Henry County, Kentucky, for over thirty years. A former professor of English at the University of Kentucky, he has received numerous awards for his work, including the T. S. Eliot Award, the Aiken Taylor Award for Poetry, and the John Hay Award of the Orion Society.
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