An engaging novel takes readers to a harrowing part of our past

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SANDY MAHAFFEY for the Free Lance-Star

Well-written, well-researched historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. It can bring to life parts of the past that I knew little about and make me feel like I’m there. Such is “Gilded Mountain” by Kate Manning.

It wasn’t an easy read, not because of the writing, which is beautiful, but because of the subject matter. It’s set in the Wild West when immigrants were treated so badly by the robber barons, it’s hard to fathom.

The narrator, Sylvie Pelletier, is the daughter of a marble miner. Their family lives in a simple cabin, subjected to the rigors of brutal winters, but Sylvie obtains a job in the sumptuous mansion of the owners of the mine. She is one of the few who have been able to see both sides of their world.

Sylvie’s father is one of the miners trying to form unions, an effort that is met with great resistance and violence. Sylvie gets a job at a local newspaper, enabling her to support attempts to unionize the miners.

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I found this portrait of this part of our history both engaging and distressing. Manning manages to cover much of people’s lives with smooth prose and description, and the characters come alive, giving the reader a real sense of their world.

Frustrated by her daughter’s lack of interest in the past, Sylvie thinks, “And just in the blink of an eye, I saw how history gets lost. Kept children by exhaustion or by shame of the suffering of the feet in broken boots, fleeing in the snow, unbearable to relive it… For you, the past is alive in you like a breath. For them, the young people, it’s a story, no more real than a painting. They are in their own story.

“Gilded Mountain” put me in their story.

Sandy Mahaffey is the former editor of The Free Lance–Star.

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