What binds us to, or makes us flee from, places that ultimately shape our lives? Places where we have loved or betrayed those we love, suffered illness, or endured unfathomable tragedy. In her debut novel In the Garden of Stone
, Susan Tekulve writes with rich detail and insight about the power and perils of place and its connection to the human spirit.
Tekulve's story - winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize - begins in 1924 in War, West Virginia, where Sicilian immigrants have settled to live and work in the coalmines of Appalachia. While 16-year-old Emma Palmisano and her family sleep, a coal car crashes and spills its contents over their house. Emma wakes to a railroad man named Caleb patiently cleaning her injured bare feet. She marries him only a week later, and the couple moves to a house on 47 acres of Virginia mountain farmland.
More than a...
Beyond the Book
In West Virginia, coal mining has a long and complex history.
The first reported discovery of coal occurred in 1742, more than a century before West Virginia became a state. The fossil fuel resource, present in all but two of West Virginia's 55 counties, began to thrive as a commercial industry in the late 19th century, when the completion of major railroads made the transport and marketing of coal more feasible. The uses for coal ranged from heating homes to fueling salt furnaces and steamboats.
Industry growth created jobs, which were often filled by laborers from Wales, Scotland, England and Southern Europe. Immigrants endured long work hours, low pay, poor housing, negligible medical care, and dangerous conditions.