The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
This novel is a work of historical fiction that explores life in Appalachian Kentucky in the 1930s through the eyes of one woman. The author sheds light on the plight of impoverished Kentucky miners, the phenomenon of packhorse librarians who carried books and magazines through remote mountains to patrons hungry for them, and the plight of the Blue People of Kentucky.
Blue People? I’d never heard of them, so I googled to see if they were real. Oh, yes. They are. (For those interested, it’s called methemoglobinemia, which causes methemoglobin levels in the red blood cells to rise above 1 percent. It turns the skin blue, the lips purple, and the blood a chocolate brown.)
There was – is – a hill family carrying a genetic trait that causes an enzyme deficiency, giving their skin a blue hue. The protagonist of THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK (an actual place) is a Blue. Through her eyes, we experience the sense of being inferior and the fear of discrimination that was as bad for Blues as for African Americans with whom they were equated by whites.
This same woman, Cussy Mary Carter, age 19, is a packhorse librarian. She loves her job – loves books – loves seeing those she visits on her route as they begin to read. Despite the color of her skin, her patrons love her right back. So, there is a feel-good quality here.
That said, the book is about dire poverty and the illness it causes. It’s about having to live with injustice. It’s about rural Kentucky life, with its folk medicine and quaint rituals. And it’s about the ultimate triumph of good over evil … somewhat.
I listened to THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK, and there were times when I felt a piece of dialogue dragged on. But the subject, the beauty of the prose, and the overall message won me over in the end.
I did enjoy this book and do recommend it.