Rich in historical detail, this gorgeously written debut novel tells the
story of a little scrap of humanity coming of age in the boom and bust years of a
California Welsh coal mining in the 1860-70s (close to Mount Diablo in the San Francisco Bay
Area). He's only seven years old but Asher Witherow, the only child of Welsh
parents, is already putting in a 12-hour days at the pit head
alongside his father and the majority of the town, then at night he attends a few
hours of school with the other pit-boys. Life is harsh but there are a few
glimmers of hope, for Asher at least, if not the mining community as a whole.
This is one of those books where
the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts that I fear to give you
details from the plot, so all I can do is encourage you to read the excerpt...
Beyond the Book
Between 1830 and 2000 more than 15,000
people were killed in USA mines. I assume similar historic figures could be
found for any coal mining country. For example, in Britain over 90,000
men, women and children lost their lives or were injured in mines between 1850
and 1914 (for a comprehensive resource of UK mining information see
Today, in industrialized countries, coal mining deaths and accidents have been
much reduced because machines have taken over from the men and boys who used to
work the coal face; deaths do still
occur; for example the 2001 explosion in
Alabama that killed 13; and there are health issues related to mining coal.
However, this all pales in comparison to the state of coal...