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In coal country, when a miner survives the collapse of a mine, he'll often surface with a permanent mark stamped onto his skin--a greenish blue imprint, sometimes jagged-edge, sometimes smooth--a symbol of endurance and sacrifice. A coal tattoo. In Silas House's new novel, everyone who's raised in Black Banks is indelibly marked by and forever connected to the place, which is how it is for Anneth and Easter.

At the heart of The Coal Tattoo is the story of these two sisters who can't live together, but can't bear to be apart. Left to raise themselves in a small coal mining town in Tennessee, Anneth and Easter are as different as night and day. One worships the flashy world of Nashville, the other is a devout Pentecostal. One falls into the lap of any man, the other is too afraid to date. Both are looking for a way to come to terms with their mother's abandonment. Anneth, just sixteen, takes off to Nashville and elopes, while Easter, weathering her own young marriage, faces a crisis of faith.

For both sisters, their journey will bring them back to the land and to each other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781419319365
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 06/02/2010

About the Author

Silas House is the author of five novels. His book for middle-grade readers, Same Sun Here, was a finalist for the E. B. White Read-Aloud award. A frequent contributor to the New York Times and a former commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered, House is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and is the winner of the Nautilus Award, the Appalachian Writers Association's Book of the Year, and other honors.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The characters of the two sisters and their mates are engagingly complex, and the psychological insights into maturation, family, and talent have an impressive depth and originality."
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Four Spirits and Ahab's Wife

Reading Group Guide

1. Did you know what a coal tattoo was before reading this novel? In what ways does the occurrence of a coal tattoo stand as metaphor or as symbol for the characters in this story? What different meanings does it have?

2. The character traits of Easter and Anneth are often juxtaposed in the novel. Easter realizes early in the story that there “was no name she could put to the difference between them.” How do the sisters’ differences keep them in conflict? Bring them together? How are Easter and Anneth alike?

3. Is Easter jealous or resentful of Anneth’s wild and carefree approach to life? Is Anneth jealous or resentful of Easter’s more grounded and careful approach to living?

4. How have the sisters’ grandmothers, Vine and Serena, affected the sisters’ development as women, as sisters, as mothers?

5. How does Easter’s devout religious faith both enrich and hinder her life?

6. Consider the scene where Easter is returning home after singing secular music on a popular television show (after she has left the church). She recalls the childhood memory of her grandmothers bringing her to a camp meeting where she had two first experiences: An anointing by the Holy Ghost and helping her grandmothers minister to striking coal-mining families. Does Easter view both of these experiences as religious?

7. Easter seems to possess mystical abilities, while Anneth seems obsessed with looking “for magic anywhere she could find it.” Easter wants to reject these mystical abilities, preferring instead “the peace of a life well lived, a good man, and the knowledge that her family was safe,” while Anneth continues to look for magic every day. Do the women ever reconcile themselves to their different quests? How?

8. Why does Anneth keep marrying men she doesn’t love?

9. What are the narrator’s attitudes toward the coal-mining industry in the early part of the novel? What are Anneth’s attitudes toward coal mining in the first half of the novel? What are the major factors that cause Anneth to view coal mining differently later on?

10. Discuss your own experiences with, and dispositions about, coal mining. Did you know what a broad form deed was before reading this novel? How does coal mining affect Black Banks? The environment at large? The economic and political infrastructure of Crow County?

11. How does the author explore class differences in this novel? Consider coal miners vs. Altamont Mining Company, churchgoers vs. nonbelievers, rural people vs. city people, Kentuckians vs. others? Does Silas House set up an “us vs. them” outlook in this story? Why or why not?

12. How does the author animate or enliven abstract concepts like faith, love, depression, and grief?

13. Water is a recurring motif in this story. Anneth is said to know water “on intimate terms.” What do you think this means? What are the different connotations for water that are explored in this novel? In what ways do the characters consider water as a personal emblem?

14. Redbirds also have a recurring role in this story. How do redbirds (and other elements of the natural world) help direct Easter and Anneth?

15. Do you agree or disagree with Vine’s suggestion to Easter that “stillness is a habit easily gained”? Why?

16. What accounts for the fierce loyalty Easter and Anneth hold for their small place on Free Creek? Do you think this allegiance to land is unique to eastern Kentuckians?

17. With which character(s) do you most closely identify? Why?

18. How do the chapter titles and the epigraphs from the book’s four sections contribute to your knowledge of the characters, plot, settings, or themes of the story?

19. The Coal Tattoo can be considered a companion book to Silas House’s first two novels. If you have read Clay’s Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves, how are these stories threaded together?

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The Coal Tattoo 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
allene68 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Silas House and this series...His characters are vivid and I felt like I knew these characters a little because of reading his other books. It was like going to a family reunion and meeting those quirky relatives you have only heard about from others. A good one for sure.
Rice4Life on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful tale of sisters in Appalachia.
mbergman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the third book I've read recently (with My Sister's Keeper & Fall on Your Knees) about sisters--a "good" sister & a "bad" (but good-hearted) one. This one is less plot-driven than the other two, focused more on the sisters' relationship and, even more, on their relationship to their land & heritage in the hills of Kentucky where coal mining dominates. Both aspects are well treated; the "good" sister's on-again, off-again Pentecostal faith seems less fairly treated.
Kyrana More than 1 year ago
“The Coal Tattoo” is the third installment in a series by Silas House. This sweet novel is strong enough to stand on its own if you haven't read the first two books in the series, “A Parchment of Leaves” and “Clay's Quilt.” This a story primarily of two very different sisters as they walk through various trials, sometimes successfully and sometimes just by enduring. It is also a reflection of life in a rural area and the influence of coal mining on a community. As lives of the sisters unfolds the reader discovers how events in their past affects the characters present choices and values and leads them to uncover strength within.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I heard this book on cd years ago and realized that I must have this story in my collection. You will get to know the characters and the setting as if they were your own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never read this author before but look forward to reading more of his books. He captures the spirit and feel of how two sisters feel about one another and richly describes the beauty of Mountains of Kentucky. He captures the feelings of each character as they go through their joys and disappointments of women living in the early 6o's.
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Nik43 More than 1 year ago
Story of love, mistakes, forgiveness, spirituality. Reflects importance of place.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Kentucky the two sisters lost their parents when they were very young so their grandmothers raised them. The older sibling twenty-two years old Easter is introverted finding solace as a devoted Pentecostal who attends church every week seventeen years old extrovert Anneth loves to dance all night at the nearby bars as she cherishes male attention. Anneth and Matthew Morgan fall in love and elope to Tennessee. However, after a few months of marriage and in spite of Matthew showering Anneth with love, she becomes bored and leaves him to return home. Meanwhile El McIntosh steadfastly courts Easter until they finally marry. Anneth is jealous of the relationship between her older sister and her brother-in-law, which she sees all the time because she lives with them. As Anneth continues to find the wrong man for her, she also tries to place her ¿tattoo¿ on El further dividing the sisters. While Apollo heads to the moon and young men die in Asian rice paddies the world seems crazy, but in Kentucky two sisters still need each other. --- THE COAL TATTOO is a deep look at the love between sisters with one being contented to be a steady lay back ¿whispering¿ through life while the other is an untamed rowdy marching band. Though polar opposites, the magnetism that connects them is a sisterly love for one another fostered by a land that tattoos the soul as much as the coal mining literally does to the miners. Interestingly, Anneth is the mother of Clay (see the highly regarded CLAY'S QUILT, which this reviewer has not read, but will) as this superb family drama will send the audience seeking Silas House¿s previous works. --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved all of his books, but this was my favorite. I really felt I got to know the characters so well, I was sad to see it end.