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At Home in the Heart of Appalachia





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About the book:

John OBriens deeply evocative book re- veals a place and a way of lifeand the lives of an estranged father and son whose differences rest, ironically, in their own powerful bonds to Appalachia.

John OBrien was born in Philadelphia, his father having left his beloved home in the West Virginia mountains after an impoverished childhood made all the more painful by family tragedy. Struggling to escape a father defeated by disappointment, displacement, and poverty, John too left home. When John decided to settle near his fathers birthplace in West Virginia, he hoped to comprehend the elder OBriens attachment to the land, as well as the disabling fatalism he had carried north.

What he discovered is hardly the mythic Appalachia most Americans imagine, but a world of extravagant beautylush with green mountains, deep forests, ice-cold trout streams, and small hill farms. The people we meet who inhabit this land are for the most part unpretentious, working class, straightforward, open, commonsensical, and easygoing. They tend to look back more than most Americans do, defining themselves by how they fit into an extended family that includes their ancestors. We are in a mountain culture that feels old and deeply rooted, that follows a traditional way of life. It is a world the author would finally love and call his own.

We also come face-to-face with provincialism, intolerance, andperhaps Appalachias defining legacythe horrors of the coalfields and chemical plants. We see clearly what rapacious greed and exploitation have done for generations to much of
the landscape and to the lives of the people. And we learn of the stream of reformers and missionaries, ever ready to show Appalachia the way, whose real contributions tend to be negligible or absurd.

In this clear-eyed, beautifully rendered telling of his story and his fathers, John OBrien gives us, as well, the history and true heart of Appalachia.

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