On Agate Hill

On Agate Hill

3.8 52
by Lee Smith

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A dusty box discovered in the wreckage of a once prosperous plantation on Agate Hill in North Carolina contains the remnants of an extraordinary life: diaries, letters, poems, songs, newspaper clippings, court records, marbles, rocks, dolls, and bones. It's through these treasured mementos that we meet Molly Petree.

Raised in those ruins and orphaned by the


A dusty box discovered in the wreckage of a once prosperous plantation on Agate Hill in North Carolina contains the remnants of an extraordinary life: diaries, letters, poems, songs, newspaper clippings, court records, marbles, rocks, dolls, and bones. It's through these treasured mementos that we meet Molly Petree.

Raised in those ruins and orphaned by the Civil War, Molly is a refugee who has no interest in self-pity. When a mysterious benefactor appears out her father's past to rescue her, she never looks back.

Spanning half a century, On Agate Hill follows Molly’s passionate, picaresque journey through love, betrayal, motherhood, a murder trial—and back home to Agate Hill under circumstances she never could have imagined.

Editorial Reviews

The story of orphan Molly Petree emerges from a dusty box discovered in an abandoned North Carolina plantation house. The box contains the vestiges of a life that began in Reconstruction days and continued deep into the 20th century, registering the efforts of a heroic woman determined to salvage her few chances. Lee Smith, the author of Fair and Tender Ladies, unwraps this personal saga through ephemera, notes, and court records. In sum, these washed-up pieces become a carefully modulated character portrait of a brave woman. Notable literary fiction.

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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Barnes & Noble
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4 MB

Read an Excerpt

Dear Diary,
This book belongs to me Molly Petree age thirteen today May 20 in the year of our Lord 1872, Agate Hill, North Carolina. I am an orphan girl. This is my own book of my own self given to me by the preachers wife Nora Gwyn who said, This little diary is for you my dear unfortunate child, to be your friend and confi dent, to share all your thoughts and deepest secrets for I know how much you need a friend and also how much you love to read and write. I do believe you have a natural gift for it. Now it is my special hope that you will set down upon these pages your own memories of your lovely mother and your brave father, and of your three brothers as well, and of all that has befallen you. For I believe this endeavor might help you, Molly Petree. So I urge you to take pen in hand commencing your diary with these words, Thy will be done O Lord on Earth as it is in Heaven, Amen.

Well, I have not done this!

And I will not do it either no matter how much I love pretty Nora Gwyn who looks like a lady on a fancy plate and has taught me such few lessons as I have had since Aunt Fannie died. NO for I mean to write in secrecy and stelth the truth as I see it. I know I am a spitfire and a burden. I do not care. My family is a dead family, and this is not my home, for I am a refugee girl.

I am like the ruby-throated hummingbird that comes again and again to Fannies red rosebush but lights down never for good and all, always flying on. And it is true that often I feel so lonesome for all of them that are gone.

I live in a house of ghosts.

I was born before the Surrender and dragged from pillar to post as Mamma always said until we fetched up here in North Carolina after Columbia fell. Our sweet Willie was born there, into a world of war. He was real little all waxy and bloody, and Old Bess put him into a dresser drawer while the fires burned red outside the windows. Mamma used to tell it in that awful whisper which went on and on through the long hot nights when she could not sleep and it was my job to wet the cool cloths required for her forehead which I did faithfully. I loved my mamma. But I was GLAD when she died, I know this is a sin. I have not told it before. But I am writing it down anyway as Nora Gwyn said and I will write it all down every true thing in black and white upon the page, for evil or good it is my own true life and I WILL have it. I will.

I am the legal ward of my uncle Junius Jefferson Hall who is not really my uncle at all but my mothers first cousin a wise and mournful man who has done the best he could for us all I reckon. We arrived here during the last days of the War to a house running over all ready thus giving Uncle Junius more than thirty people on this place to feed, negro and white alike. Uncle Junius used to be a kind strong man but he is sick and seems so sad and lost in thought now since Fannie died.

This is his wife my dear aunt

Meet the Author

Born in the small coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia, Lee Smith began writing stories at the age of nine and selling them for a nickel apiece. Since then, she has written seventeen works of fiction, including Fair and Tender Ladies, Oral History, and, most recently, Guests on Earth. She has received many awards, including the North Carolina Award for Literature and an Academy Award in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; her novel The Last Girls was a New York Times bestseller as well as winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with her husband, the writer Hal Crowther. Visit her at www.leesmith.com.

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On Agate Hill 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reluctantly, I just finished On Agate Hill. The literary emphasis is the adept development of the characters. Closely following the amazing characterization is the strength of the southern setting after the Civil War into the following century. There is humor, sadness and loss, and an architypal strong woman of the South. The lyrical prose was a pleasure to read aloud at times with my gentle southern drawl. Lee Smith is a master of imagery and endless rich detail. Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best writers of our time, and sure to be recognized as one of the best Southern writers of all time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book overall for the interesting way in which the main character's story is told-using journal entries and letters. This style offers many different prespectives of the same event or person and allows the author to switch voices. I could have done without the letters/input of the Tuscany Miller character and did not find her neccessary to the plot line.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this story. I typically read very heavy topics, or Oprah choices, which all can be a tiny bit depressing. This was a clean, wonderfully written story about love and hardships. I enjoyed the diary entries, and the explicit details. Well done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am giving this 4 stars because the post Civil War diary is just awesome to read. The characters really come alive. What I did not like at all was the beginning and end because it had no relationship to the story and cheapened it. So beginning and end get 1 star. If you just skip the letter to the professor you will have a lovely story.
AustenfanCH More than 1 year ago
The story was very good but I kept wishing I could get closer to the main character Molly Petree. Her story is told first from her own childhood diary, then from the journal of a headmistress from her post-civil war school and Molly's letters to a lost childhood friend, then from another teacher's notes (who later became a close friend of Molly's) and THEN court documents, and finally you return to Molly's diary (Molly now being an elderly woman). I think I would have loved any of the stories in the novel alone, but on a whole they seemed to melt away and I never felt as if they had closure or purpose. The book read more like a documentry, which is probably what the author intended...and in saying that she did keep my interest. It is NOT a love story as stated on the front of the novel and I felt extemely cheated as I would have LOVED a novel on Molly and Jacky's life and love. Most of the book was extremely depressing, very little to smile about! No happy ending...but a good read, especially for history lovers! Author is very good on her history!
LininCT More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book immensely. There was never a boring interlude throughout this story. Strong characterizations for the period based around the life of a strong girl who overcame such a difficult life. Tragedy, love, loss, betrayals - the works. We follow her life from childhood through old age. This is a book I will definitely read again and I look forward to now searching for other titles from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read cookbooks as avidly as history books. However, I look forward to the mouth- watering photos of a finished product with each recipe. My eyes tell me more than any written recipe. The information mentioned the photographer's name so I assumed there would be colorful displays. Wrong………I know I should not assume any thing but I got carried away this time and ended up extremely disappointed. This cookbook does contain photos………very small photos of cakes that all look the same with little to no color. I am pleased with the recipes chosen to be incorporated in this book and truly enjoyed the story behind each recipe, plus the many excellent tips. The author knows her "stuff" and gives great advice that all should heed! I've been in Ms. Byrn's line of work for many years and I have learned it all the hard way. I only wish I could of had her expertise thirty years ago.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I felt the ending was weird but after reading the author's story about her son, I understood why she ended it the way she did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Patty2331 More than 1 year ago
Good Story line but the main character falls apart at the end. Didn't care for the ending at all. You took a strong women and she should have had a better ending than the last few chapters and the woman writing her professor, weird...
janonly640 More than 1 year ago
This well written historical novel of the post civil war south will keep you spellbound. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story.
Addysma More than 1 year ago
Loved this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry I wasted money on this one... Dli
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I lpved rhe different perspectives of molly's life.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cake !!! One of my fave deserts!!!
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