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The Coal Tattoo

The Coal Tattoo

4.3 8
by Silas House

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In coal country, when a miner survives the collapse of a mine, he'll often surface with a permanent mark stamped onto his skin--a greenish blue imprint, sometimes jagged-edge, sometimes smooth--a symbol of endurance and sacrifice. A coal tattoo. In Silas House's new novel, everyone who's raised in Black Banks is indelibly marked by and forever connected to the


In coal country, when a miner survives the collapse of a mine, he'll often surface with a permanent mark stamped onto his skin--a greenish blue imprint, sometimes jagged-edge, sometimes smooth--a symbol of endurance and sacrifice. A coal tattoo. In Silas House's new novel, everyone who's raised in Black Banks is indelibly marked by and forever connected to the place, which is how it is for Anneth and Easter.

At the heart of The Coal Tattoo is the story of these two sisters who can't live together, but can't bear to be apart. Left to raise themselves in a small coal mining town in Tennessee, Anneth and Easter are as different as night and day. One worships the flashy world of Nashville, the other is a devout Pentecostal. One falls into the lap of any man, the other is too afraid to date. Both are looking for a way to come to terms with their mother's abandonment. Anneth, just sixteen, takes off to Nashville and elopes, while Easter, weathering her own young marriage, faces a crisis of faith.

For both sisters, their journey will bring them back to the land and to each other.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Evocative prose and unforgettable characters mark this haunting novel from House, a Kentucky writer who mines the storytelling tradition of Appalachia. Set in the 1960s, the novel functions as a prequel of sorts to House's award-winning book Clay's Quilt, offering two sisters who are as different as night and day. Anneth who will become Clay's mother is a wild-blooded manic depressive determined to suck joy from life, while her older sister Easter, a deeply religious Pentecostal woman with the gift of foresight, has "decided to walk through life like a whisper." House paints both characters lovingly and unsentimentally, charting how each remains devoted to the other through tragedy and a battle to hold on to the one constant that unites them in a turbulent world: their land. As they fight to protect their mountain from the mining company that wants to clear the earth and strip it bare, the sisters make sacrifices for one another that will grip the reader. House has a gift for understanding the cadences of mountain folk religion and the way that music sustains people's spirits. The titular image of the coal tattoo a bluish tinge that seeps under a miner's skin and leaves a permanent stain is a perfect metaphor for the novel's depiction of the indelible imprint the land leaves on the human soul. (Sept. 24) Forecast: House is already a regional favorite, and strong handselling around the country could build his audience nationwide. His books are an excellent choice for readers of religious fiction, but they have a more general spiritual and literary appeal, too. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Third in a multigenerational saga (A Parchment of Leaves, 2002, etc.) of a Kentucky mountain family with tragedy to burn. Easter and her younger sister Anneth are orphaned when their father dies in a cave-in at the Altamont Mine and their mother hangs herself shortly thereafter. The two and their brother Gabe are raised by their grandmothers: Serena, whose family settled in the shadow of the mountain at Free Creek; and Vine, a Cherokee whose land was on the other side of the mountain in an area that's now a mine. Easter is a churchgoing Pentecostal who finds love with El, but grief when her only child is stillborn and she can't have another. (The child has a blue birthmark similar to a "coal tattoo" that marks men who have survived cave-ins.) Anneth is a beauty whose wild streak draws her into drinking, barroom flirtations, and impulsive marriages to a Nashville-bound singer/guitarist, a wealthy mine foreman, and ultimately a dangerously controlling man. The relationship between the sisters is frayed by Anneth's recklessness, but ultimately family ties endure when the Altamont mining company turns to strip mining, using coerced "broad form deeds," and tries to bulldoze their mountain (" . . . loving the land was a given, not something one could choose. . ."). When the sisters and their aunt stand in front of the bulldozers, the media plays up the incident, and the land is saved for now. Anneth falls in love with a draftee headed to Vietnam, discovers she's pregnant, and promises to give the baby to Easter and El to raise. Both sisters are natural singers, and a motif about the coming of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s adds an intriguing period dimension. Sometimes marred by a monotony in itscharacterizations, but, overall, a gentle tale with appealingly flawed people and an exquisite sense of the quotidian.
From the Publisher
“A portrait of two sisters that is both realistic and deeply moving . . . House stakes a strong claim on the territory of Southern fiction, unearthing new gems from a well-loved landscape.”
–The Charlotte Observer

“[This] lovely novel . . . about the love and survival skills of two very different sisters . . . is powered by a strong sense of place.”
–USA Today

“[House is] a writer of startling abilities . . . a master at rendering his characters’ emotional terrain as real and accessible.”
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Full of heartbreaking beauty and suffering . . . House brings vividly to life the Appalachian Mountains. . . . His love of the land comes through his words, and his admiration of the people colors every character.”
–Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Some characters wear coal tattoos, patches of coal buried in the skin. . . . The author brands the readers with a similarly indelible mark as we become enmeshed in the lives of these people; it’s a badge to be worn proudly.”
–Southern Living

“A deeply emotional story . . . How do we cope with tragedy and heartbreak? The Coal Tattoo describes the struggles that all of us must endure to be human.”
–Dayton Daily News

“Engrossing . . . [A] pitch-perfect tale.”
–Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.68(w) x 8.74(h) x 1.13(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"The characters of the two sisters and their mates are engagingly complex, and the psychological insights into maturation, family, and talent have an impressive depth and originality."
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Four Spirits and Ahab's Wife

Meet the Author

Silas House is the author of Clay's Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves. He is the recipient of the Kentucky Book of the Year Award and the James Still Award, from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. A Parchment of Leaves was a Book Sense Top Ten pick and a citywide reader's pick in four cities. A graduate of Spalding University, with an M.F.A. in writing, House lives with his wife and two daughters in Eastern Kentucky.

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The Coal Tattoo 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Kyrana More than 1 year ago
“The Coal Tattoo” is the third installment in a series by Silas House. This sweet novel is strong enough to stand on its own if you haven't read the first two books in the series, “A Parchment of Leaves” and “Clay's Quilt.” This a story primarily of two very different sisters as they walk through various trials, sometimes successfully and sometimes just by enduring. It is also a reflection of life in a rural area and the influence of coal mining on a community. As lives of the sisters unfolds the reader discovers how events in their past affects the characters present choices and values and leads them to uncover strength within.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I heard this book on cd years ago and realized that I must have this story in my collection. You will get to know the characters and the setting as if they were your own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never read this author before but look forward to reading more of his books. He captures the spirit and feel of how two sisters feel about one another and richly describes the beauty of Mountains of Kentucky. He captures the feelings of each character as they go through their joys and disappointments of women living in the early 6o's.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nik43 More than 1 year ago
Story of love, mistakes, forgiveness, spirituality. Reflects importance of place.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Kentucky the two sisters lost their parents when they were very young so their grandmothers raised them. The older sibling twenty-two years old Easter is introverted finding solace as a devoted Pentecostal who attends church every week seventeen years old extrovert Anneth loves to dance all night at the nearby bars as she cherishes male attention. Anneth and Matthew Morgan fall in love and elope to Tennessee. However, after a few months of marriage and in spite of Matthew showering Anneth with love, she becomes bored and leaves him to return home. Meanwhile El McIntosh steadfastly courts Easter until they finally marry. Anneth is jealous of the relationship between her older sister and her brother-in-law, which she sees all the time because she lives with them. As Anneth continues to find the wrong man for her, she also tries to place her ¿tattoo¿ on El further dividing the sisters. While Apollo heads to the moon and young men die in Asian rice paddies the world seems crazy, but in Kentucky two sisters still need each other. --- THE COAL TATTOO is a deep look at the love between sisters with one being contented to be a steady lay back ¿whispering¿ through life while the other is an untamed rowdy marching band. Though polar opposites, the magnetism that connects them is a sisterly love for one another fostered by a land that tattoos the soul as much as the coal mining literally does to the miners. Interestingly, Anneth is the mother of Clay (see the highly regarded CLAY'S QUILT, which this reviewer has not read, but will) as this superb family drama will send the audience seeking Silas House¿s previous works. --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved all of his books, but this was my favorite. I really felt I got to know the characters so well, I was sad to see it end.