Melissa Fay Greene,
Last Man Out:
The Story of the
Springhill Mine Disaster

(First Harvest, 2003)

The story of the Springhill Mine Disaster was an emotional rollercoaster for families and friends who lived in the little Nova Scotia town in 1958. Melissa Fay Greene has done a remarkable job taking parts of the past and creating a sensitive and objective view of the facts.

Greene explains the miners' everyday lives, moves on to their working environment and, when the disaster hits, she expands into the horror that is going on underground and brings us to understand the aftershocks of political and social manipulations on the international stage and how it all affects these human beings forever.

Greene never forgets for a moment that she's talking about human beings, people who are our brothers and sisters, who had aspirations and talents that could have been used far beyond the dark confines of a coal mine. She conveys that these are not simply miners, or even simple miners, these are real people, with their families and their thoughts. Some of them you will never forget.

Sometimes, it's a mite stark, with her observations and descriptions, but there's a very strong sense that she's giving you the truth, like it or not.

These men spent a very long week trapped underground when the mine collapsed. Greene uses all the material available as she reconstructs the scene. A detailed bibliography, index and list of endnotes make this a much more reliable book than many disaster stories that are tossed onto the market and rely on tragic effects only to spark your interest.

From start to finish, this book is an interesting read, a well-crafted story, and the title still fills me with sorrow of the event when I read the words Last Man Out. These words no one wants to hear if a family member is still trapped below ground at the end of a rescue operation. In Springhill, luckily, there were two last-man-outs called as the men were rescued in two groups.

It's an unforgettable story written in clear language, filled with details that seem to pulse with life as you read them, and the pieces of the story are interpreted with a depth of intelligence found all too rarely. You will drink thirstily every second of humour, horror and pain that lives between these pages because it's an honorable tribute to the men who lived under extreme stress. And more, the book is a mirror that reflects us all. From it, as you encounter scenes of frailty and courage, you will wonder how in the world would I have handled it.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 19 February 2005

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