The Road to Lattimer

Written by Virginia Rafferty
Review by Arleigh Ordoyne

In the late 1800s, four families from Austria-Hungary emigrate to America in search of a better life. Their homeland, caught up in political strife and never-ending poverty, seemed bleak compared to the promising land of opportunity that was advertised on posters. Little did they know that a life of drudgery awaits them in the anthracite coal mines of Pennsylvania.

Stefan & Anna, Cyril & Adriana, Emil & Edita, and Jan & Katarina each receive a backstory in the beginning chapters and come together once they’re situated in the United States near Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Living in various nearby “patch towns,” their lives are dictated by the coal company that owns their houses, the stores where they purchase goods on credit, and even the schools and police forces. The men and boys work long hours doing backbreaking, dirty, and dangerous work while the women and girls scrape together meager rations to feed their growing families. Children would be sent to the breakers—a hazardous job of sorting materials—as early as age seven, and men would be broken and suffering from “black lung” by age 40. They had few rights and were cheated on their pay by the greedy owners.

This story gives a realistic view of the treatment of foreigners by Americans who were themselves only a generation or two removed from immigrant status. It catalogs the rising unionizing of the coal industry and describes in detail the infamous Lattimer Massacre of 1897. Rafferty does well with introducing a lot of characters while making each side story its own interesting part. This book is highly recommended for those looking for European immigration-themed stories—in particular, Hungarian. It’s obvious the author has done in-depth research and was able to put together an excellent narrative!