Synopses & Reviews
A touching, heartfelt and provocative book about one American family's arduous rise to prosperity and the history which holds them together.
Brimming with fascinating detail and real and wonderful characters, American Elegy opens up a lost world where one family inhabited the same landscape for centuries. Writing in superbly measured prose, Jeffrey Simpson evokes two hundred years of his family's life in Parnassus, a small town by the Allegheny River, east of Pittsburgh.
Working from a wondrous collage of family papers, photographs, and everyday objects, and bringing to the task an unerring eye for revealing detail, Simpson recreates a family that rose from arduous farm work to prosperity, only to fade away along with a certain way of life. A torn page from an eighteenth-century schoolbook recalls the hard labor of claiming an unexplored wilderness. An old pair of spectacles takes us on a journey to a farmhouse where white clapboards cover the rough logs of a much earlier dwelling, just as prosperity had replaced mere sustenance. The surprising glimpse of an ankle bracelet on an elderly aunt leads to a haunting tale of love found and lost. It is in these details, and in the forceful personalities behind them, that a larger picture of American family life emerges.
American Elegy was selected as one of the best books of the year by Jonathan Yardley (in The Washington Post Book World), who called it "impressive...an intelligent, heartfelt reflection upon matters to which all of us can connect".