Cover of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth
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Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

By: Sarah Smarsh


Imprint: Scribner Book Company

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781501133091

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Electronic | Audio | Trade Paperback

On Sale: | Pages: 304

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*Finalist for the National Book Award* *Finalist for the Kirkus Prize* *Instant New York Times Bestseller* *Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, The New York Post, BuzzFeed, Shelf Awareness, Bustle, and Publishers Weekly* An essential read for our times: an eye-opening memoir of working-class poverty in America that will deepen our understanding of the ways in which class shapes our country and "a deeply humane memoir that crackles with clarifying insight".* Sarah Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side, and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland. During Sarah's turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, she enjoyed the freedom of a country childhood, but observed the painful challenges of the poverty around her; untreated medical conditions for lack of insurance or consistent care, unsafe job conditions, abusive relationships, and limited resources and information that would provide for the upward mobility that is the American Dream. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves with clarity and precision but without judgement, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country. Beautifully written, in a distinctive voice, Heartland combines personal narrative with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, challenging the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. "Heartland is one of a growing number of important works--including Matthew Desmond's Evicted and Amy Goldstein's Janesville--that together merit their own section in nonfiction aisles across the country: America's postindustrial decline...Smarsh shows how the false promise of the 'American dream' was used to subjugate the poor. It's a powerful mantra" *(The New York Times Book Review).
“Heartland” is intended as a rebuke to the conservative myth that grounds “Hillbilly Elegy,” that the poor have brought their misery upon themselves by shunning hard work and clean living. Smarsh, a woman with progressive politics, deserves the same recognition for authenticity that made Vance the de facto spokesman for the working class. “Heartland” is a thoughtful, big-hearted tale.... “Heartland” is a welcome interruption in the national silence that hangs over the lives of the poor and a repudiation of the culture of shame that swamps people who deserve better.
—Washington Post
...deeply affecting... The book is a personal, decades-long story of America's coordinated assault on its underclass.... Smarsh's memoir delicately juggles the conflicting lessons of poverty, demonstrating how “society's contempt for the poor becomes the poor person's contempt for herself.” Similarly, right-leaning readers may be expecting the usual hagiography about farmers, but “Heartland” avoids these pitfalls.... This is not “The Grapes of Wrath” or “Hillbilly Elegy,” and it is never saccharine or self-deluding. This is a tough, no-nonsense woman telling truth, and telling it hard.
—Los Angeles Times
This is a provocative, well-researched book for our times. Yet one nit: Smarsh sets up this book as a note to an imaginary daughter, a childhood creation who shaped many of Smarsh's own smart decisions by prompting her to think, "What would I tell my daughter to do?" Good tactic. Except that the resulting random sentences addressed to "you" always come as a surprise, the reader not being steeped in her life-altering experience. Smarsh does bring her insistence on maintaining this trope to a decent explanation in her final pages, but by that time it all seems a little labored.... This is a difficult, but illuminating, book for these class-riven times.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Reading HEARTLAND should open up many conversations about choices, youthful but still authentic, and we can celebrate the wisdom of Smarsh's account of her Kansas farm childhood. It will be books such as this one that may help close the divide in our country between the coasts and the middle, with more understanding and compassion from each side.
Through the stories of Smarsh's witty but withholding mother, her tender but luckless father, her generous step-grandfather and hazardously vivacious grandmother, Smarsh shows how the poor seldom have the vantage to identify the systemic forces suppressing them. Rather, they make do.... Smarsh is an invaluable guide to flyover country, worth 20 abstract-noun-espousing op-ed columnists.... A deeply humane memoir with crackles of clarifying insight, “Heartland” is one of a growing number of important works — including Matthew Desmond's “Evicted” and Amy Goldstein's “Janesville” — that together merit their own section in nonfiction aisles across the country: America's postindustrial decline. Or, perhaps, simply: class.
—New York Times
In her sharply-observed, big-hearted memoir, “Heartland,” Smarsh chronicles the human toll of inequality, her own childhood a case study.... Smarsh writes movingly of her father, Nick, an itinerant carpenter, and her grandfathers, whose hard work defined and often shortened their lives. But its her mother, Jeannie, and grandmother Betty who occupy the book's emotional center.... [W]hat this book offers is a tour through the messy and changed reality of the American dream, and a love letter to the unruly but still beautiful place she called home.
—Boston Globe
...[a] bleak yet compelling portrait of white poverty in America, a narrative of dysfunction mixed with resilience.... It is far too easy to stereotype the poor, the Midwest, or those who live in the country, Smarsh tells us. The reality is much more nuanced, and all the more heartbreaking.... [T]he real power of “Heartland” lies less in Smarsh's explicit sociological arguments, which can veer toward jargon or read as somewhat tired liberal tropes, but in her startlingly vivid scenes of an impoverished childhood.... [W]hile “Heartland” has its flaws – a structure that sometimes feels forced, a narrative that does not smoothly transition between storytelling and sociological claims – overall the book is an absorbing, important work in a country that needs to know more about itself.
—Christian Science Monitor
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