Review: A Coal Miner's Bride

A Coal Miner's Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Lattimer, Pennsylvania, 1896 (Dear America)A Coal Miner's Bride
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Coal Miner's Bride / 0-439-05386-2

Anetka, a young Polish girl, is infuriated when her father, a coal worker in America, sends her a ticket to America that he has bought by promising her in marriage to a fellow coal worker. She arrives in America with her younger brother and a bothersome, yet very attractive soldier named Leon, only to find that her prospective husband is a boorish brute with three daughters from a previous marriage. Anetka silently accepts her wedding and unhappy marriage, shackled to a husband who does not love her and who does not treat her with tenderness, calling her 'lazy wife' daily when he returns home. Secretly, she yearns for a husband who will love her and care for her, or at least for a man whose kisses will stop her heart the way Leon's stolen kiss did, so long ago.

As Anetka struggles to create a new life with her husband and his three young daughters, a bleaker bigger picture emerges. Conditions in the coal mine are treacherous, and the bosses work their employees to death, cheating them out of their wages and refuses them safe working conditions. As the coal miners speak more of unionization, the Americans turn violent, seriously injuring and killing many of the immigrants. Anetka's spirit must remain strong as she fights to protect her new daughters from the harshness of this strange new world.

For parents, there is a significant amount of violence in this novel, including multiple beatings of immigrant workers, and the wholesale slaughter of the strikers when the bosses fire on the unarmed strikers. The issue of sexuality is handled delicately, but very young children may wonder what Anetka means when she sorrowfully notes that, in bed at night, her new husband "does not kiss me afterward". What, exactly, she means by "afterward" is left to parental discretion to explain.

This compellingly written novel is a fast read and brought tears to my eyes. It is impossible not to admire Anetka's spirit and determination, and it is easy to forget that she is so very young, when she is so very loving and wise. There is much good to be had here, including an accurate and important portrayal of the importance of unions in our country's history.

~ Ana Mardoll

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