The balance of my reading always falls down on the side of fiction, but I do love a good nonfiction book. Something to really get my teeth into, and something that might cause me to change or challenge my view of the world. So when I saw the increasing swell of interest that was gathering behind Rust I was intrigued.
Rust is a true account of the author Eliese Colette Goldbach’s , experiences in the steel mills of Cleveland. Working in the so called rust belt of the US at a time of unprecedented political turmoil, in a job she never expected to do, Rust offers a fascinating insight into a world so often referred to but little explored.
Growing up in Cleveland, the mill was a constant of some what looming presence for Eliese. She was up in family that was Catholic and staunchly republican, anti abortion and vehemently anti democrat. In spite of these traditional leanings … and her sister were encouraged to look for more than traditional female roles.
As a dedicated student and committed Christian Eliese believed she was destined for higher things, always believing she would have a successful career, away from Cleveland, never for one minute thinking she would end up in the mill. Going away to college opened up Eliese’s world. Suddenly she was mixing with those who held liberal views, challenging her republican upbringing, shaping her own views.
But in the same place Eliese was subjected to a terrifying sexual assault which threw Eliese’s life far off course. The trauma of her experience triggered the onset of mania and depression found in a bipolar diagnosis. The terrifying mixed state of her condition, coupled with a crippling lack of opportunity brought about by the Great Recession and Eliese finds herself applying for a job in the mill.
The pay is good, far surpassing what she earns working as a house painter. But the conditions are tough; the hours are long and irregular, the mill is inherently dangerous despite all the health and safety measures regularly implemented and updated. At times the mill is terrifying, and it is particularly tough for the female workers who have to work longer, harder and tougher to prove their worth.
The mill is a community. Rough around the edges, where respect is earned, but a community that looks after it’s own. It is a community peopled by generations of mill workers, ruled by the union and increasingly terrified by the reduction of their industry and it’s life blood.
It is in this context that Trump begins his rise to power. Exploiting the fear and unrest felt by the Rust Belt workers and those like them, he made promises and offers, things the workers wanted to hear. But despite their vast political differences Eliese finds herself drawn the workers of the mill. Drawn to their sense of togetherness and camaraderie, Eliese appreciates the differences in their political opinions and begins to find hope in a nation that seems hopelessly divided.
Rust is quite simply excellent. If you have ever questioned the how and why of Trump’s rise to power, Rust might just help you understand. But more importantly it might provide some hope that the seemingly huge divisions between the left and right can, at some point, be bridged.
And there is more…
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