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Hannah Coulter
by Wendell Berry

Category: Fiction / General
186 pages; ISBN: 1-59376-036-1

Rating: 9/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Coletta Ollerer


Hannah is a young motherless girl living on a tired farm with her beloved grandmother and her loving father “a man of not much ambition”. Her grandmother’s love sustains her and she maintains a cheery attitude and an industrious spirit.

Her father decides to remarry and he chooses Ida, a self centered lady with two rambunctious sons. Grandmother perceives that Hannah will lose her secure place at the farm and she comes up with a plan after her graduation from high school, ”Listen. Tomorrow morning we’re going down to Hargrave. I’m telling you now so you can think about it and get your mind in order. We’re going to see what we can do.” (p17) She takes Hannah to see Ora Finley, a girlhood friend, who agrees to provide room and board In her spacious home. Hannah finds work in town and is able to pay for her keep.

While in Hargrave she meets Virgil and eventually they marry. The young couple moves in with his parents on their farm. “And so I became one of the Feltners, and not in name only. I had my place and my work among them. They let me belong to them.” (p41). He is sent off to war and is reported missing in action. A daughter, Margaret, is born to the couple during his absence. After several years everyone assumes he will not return.

Nathan, a local boy notices the widow Hannah and she becomes aware of his interest. “I could say he gradually assumed a sort of standing in my eyes. . . . He was quiet, he never put himself forward, but he was there. You couldn’t not notice him. And just as slowly as he became a presence to me, I became aware that I was present to him. I knew it by the way he was looking at me.” (p64) They agree to start a new life. Their union produces two sons.

This is a comfortable tale of life on a farm in the south during and after WWII. We meet the neighbors and friends and come to know and love them. Love and respect is all over the place in this community. This reviewer wistfully yearned to have been raised there herself. There is a lot of hard work and everyone is so busy they don’t have time to wish for more. The neighbors pitch in and help each other. Berry writes like Norman Rockwell paints. The nostalgia is ubiquitous. This story is as pleasant and relaxing as the feel of an upholstered chair after a long day. The people have plenty of problems but no one visits a therapist. Everyone is strong and enduring. Told in Hannah’s voice we sense her sweet spirit, her gentle acceptance of life and her positive outlook. She was able to attract the love of two good men, certainly an accomplishment, or was Hannah just a person who looked for the best in everyone? Perhaps, but both men were hard-working, loving husbands. She loves the life and looks forward to when her children will take over the farm. Do you want to escape from your busy, hectic life? Allow Wendell Berry to take you for a ride to where no one even thinks of the need for upward mobility.


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Buy Hannah Coulter at


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