A first novel by a Southerner from a Southern university press with an introduction by a Southern writer and preceded by a glossary, a bibliography, and a note on the Gullah-Geechee dialect of the Southeast suggests that what follows will be an educational experience, but it turns out to be a good read.
It's 1917, and Charleston is enjoying a boom. Jobs are expanding even for women, and they can earn $10 a week making cigars, double that for war work. The book opens as Brigid, after graduating from high school, goes to work beside her aunt Cassie in the cigar factory. It's piecework, 10 grueling hours a day for six days a week in a sealed building (drafts dry the leaf), the air dense with dust and chemicals. Everyone coughs. They are two working women leading marginal lives, and Moore does a fine job describing living, cooking, shopping, worship, and leisure in a Charleston slum. Brigid and Cassie are white, and few readers will be surprised when a new cast of characters appears. Meliah Amey and Binah are black, so they work in the basement preparing the tobacco. Conditions are worse; pay is $4 a week. Over 30 years the players age, suffer, love, and—once the New Deal and CIO arrive—prosper, if modestly. The author creates competent characters and delivers a realistic portrayal of Charleston but strikes gold in her depiction of cigar manufacturing in an era when the free market ruled. The factory is clearly the main character, a vivid, oppressive presence in the lives of its workers, and readers will not regret learning the nuts and bolts of its operation.
High quality historical fiction.