First published in 1940, James Still's masterful novel has become a classic. It is the story, seen through the eyes of a boy, of three years in the life of his family and their kin. He sees his parents pulled between the meager farm with its sense of independence and the mining camp with its uncertain promise of material prosperity. In his world privation, violence, and death are part of everyday life, accepted and endured. Yet it is a world of dignity, love, and humor, of natural beauty which Still evokes in sharp, poetic images. No writer has caught more effectively the vividness of mountain speech or shown more honestly the trials and joys of mountain life.
"A tenderly written and well-sustained story." -- New York Times
"His characters are endowed with vigor and stature. Its achievement as an artisic creation of a people and a locale is as sound as its pretensions are modest." -- Saturday Review of Books
"Still tells of [his people's] japes and sorrows and near starvation, the rich archaic poetry of their talk and customs in a clear, dry style as unsentimental as his seven-year-old's eyes. He has produced a work of art." -- Time Magazine
"As you read you can hear the redbirds in the plum thickets and smell the pawpaws at first frost; you know, too, what it means to scrape the bottom of the meat box with a plow blade, hunting for a rind of pork amid the salt when the mines are closed." -- Washington Post
"Mr. Still's local language is true and good." -- Lincoln Herald Times
"There is hunger and suffering and death in this child's experience but there is also laughter, riddles and tales told from the past, and the surrounding natural landscape moving from one season to the next. The reappearance of River of Earth is a welcome literary event." -- Wilma Dykeman, South Atlantic Bulletin
"Among best novels, we may distinguish between "greats" and smaller masterpieces... Small masterpieces are not so deep nor so grand in scope. Yet their art may be just as exquisite, for these books render a limited human action just right. You finish them thinking you would neither change a word nor omit a scene. Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop is such a book; so is Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Another work of fiction that surely ranks among America's small masterpieces is as Kentuckian as a book can be. This is James Still's River of Earth... From first to last, Still's scenic art is nearabout perfect. It yields a carefully observed canvas of life of a particular place and time. -- Advocate-Messenger" -- James L. Nicholson, Advocate-Messenger
" River of Earth is fiction. But it is far too honest, too human, too real and believable, to be considered a manufactured saga of a historically stricken region deep within our American landscape.
[...] [It] is an extremely important slice of Appalachia, a culture that has far too often been ignored or left behind by the full-speed-ahead achievements of this country over the past 100 years. Which is precisely why River of Earth needs to be rediscovered. Relevant as ever, it remains worthy of our attention and praise and reflection. It is genuine Americana told in a brilliant, clear, lyrical style. I want to make sure people know about it." -- Midwest Book Review