• Great Beginnings: Blood on the Forge

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Great Beginnings     Comments 1 comment

    Blood on the ForgeLeave it to NYRB Classics to rescue yet another lost gem of literature. If you know the name William Attaway at all, it’s most likely because he wrote the Harry Belafonte version of “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” Summarized in rather amusing fashion on Wikipedia, “Attaway’s novels were not a major attraction to critics at their time of publication,” but in 2005 NYRB Classics reissued Blood on the Forge, Attaway’s depiction of the Great Migration, a topic we touched on when we discussed perhaps my favorite novel, Toni Morrison’s Jazz.

    I’m currently making my way through the book, originally pubbed in 1941, and, as is my wont, I’d like us to take a look at the book’s opening lines. Blood on the Forge begins:

    He never had a craving in him that he couldn’t slick away on his guitar. You have to be native to the red-clay hills of Kentucky to understand that. There the guitar players don’t bother with any fingering; they do it by running a knife blade up and down the stops. Most of the good slickers down where he was born would say that a thin blade made the most music. But he liked the heft of a good, heavy hog sticker.

    What do we learn about the character and setting from these five lines? What about this sequence makes you want to continue reading? Or, if you don’t want to continue reading, why?

    Leave your comments and questions below, and tick “notify” to keep up with the discussion. Let’s get nerdy, friends!

    (And not to go all commercial, but NYRB is offering 20% off many of its titles at present, including this one.)

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    I read this! I can’t remember how it landed on my list, maybe Oprah, blush, but I loved it!

    “He liked the heft of a good heavy hog-sticker.” Read that line aloud. It’s so beautiful and rich. Who is telling me I need to be from Kentuck to understand? What will this character do with his knife? This absolutely makes me want to read on.

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