Synopses & Reviews
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.
grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, where his seventeen books are set. His novels The Winter People
and The Journey of August King
have been adapted as films. He lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Linda Spalding is a Kansas-born Canadian writer and editor. Her most recent book, The Purchase, won the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Prize for Fiction. She edits the review journal Brick and lives in Toronto.
First published fifty years ago in 1964 to great acclaim, The Land Breakers
is John Ehle’s best-known work of historical fiction, chronicling the hard-won settlement of southern Appalachia. A cinematic saga spanning the Revolutionary War years of 1779 to 1784, The Land Breakers
recounts in spare, unflinching prose the challenges, setbacks, and small triumphs of the defiant men and women who were drawn to the wilderness of provincial North Carolina.
Eager for opportunity in a land where the easy country had been claimed, Ehle’s unforgettable characters stake their lives on the settlement of the unnamed high mountain territory. Strong and silent Mooney Wright is the first to make his way into the forbidding mountains. Others steadily follow: the cruel patriarch Tinkler Harrison, his daughter Lorry, the free-spirited Mina Plover. The Land Breakers is a paean to man’s capacity for work, and Ehle imbues the hardworking men and women of his book—the land breakers of this young country—with nobility.
About the Author
(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. (Sanford once said of Ehle: “If I were to write a guidebook for new governors, one of my main suggestions would be that he find a novelist and put him on his staff.”) 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.