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Title: Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit
Author: Eliese Colette Goldbach
Published: 3rd March 2020 – Quercus
Format: Paperback (ARC) – 310 pages
“We were these tiny sparks of consciousness burning fiercely amid the machines – each of us made of the same substance, each of us a pulse in the dark – and, taken together, we were the beating heart of this world.” – Rust
Hello Hello! How are you?
I was sent Rust by Katya Ellis from Quercus Books, thank you so much for sending me my copy! I was immediately intrigued when I saw this book in my Twitter feed, and when I read the blurb on Goodreads, I was pulled in and I’m so glad that I told Katya that I was interested.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a memoir before, so congrats to me on my first one ahah! This was such a good pick to start reading memoirs and now I really want to read some more, so if you have any recommendations tell me in the comments!
I have to admit that the main reason why I was so interested in this book was that it reminded me a lot of Flashdance. I love that film and my favourite part is how Alex survives in her work at the factory, how gritty she is and just gets on with things, but doesn’t let herself get downtrodden by life. This is the vibe I got from Rust, and let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint!
One woman’s story of working in the backbreaking steel industry to rebuild her life—but what she uncovers in the mill is much more than molten metal and gruelling working conditions. Under the mill’s orange flame she finds hope for the unity of America.
Steel is the only thing that shines in the belly of the mill…
To ArcelorMittal Steel Eliese is known as #6691: Utility Worker, but this was never her dream. Fresh out of college, eager to leave behind her conservative hometown and come to terms with her Christian roots, Eliese found herself applying for a job at the local steel mill. The mill is everything she was trying to escape, but it’s also her only shot at financial security in an economically devastated and forgotten part of America.
In Rust, Eliese brings the reader inside the belly of the mill and the middle American upbringing that brought her there in the first place. She takes a long and intimate look at her Rust Belt childhood and struggles to reconcile her desire to leave without turning her back on the people she’s come to love. The people she sees as the unsung backbone of our nation.
Faced with the financial promise of a steelworker’s paycheck, and the very real danger of working in an environment where a steel coil could crush you at any moment or a vat of molten iron could explode because of a single drop of water, Eliese finds unexpected warmth and camaraderie among the gruff men she labors beside each day.
Appealing to readers of Hillbilly Elegy and Educated, Rust is a story of the humanity Eliese discovers in the most unlikely and hellish of places, and the hope that therefore begins to grow.
Rust is a memoir of a female steelworker’s experiences inside the steel mill, but also of her life, going from her childhood memories, jumping back and forth through various life experiences, always going back to her work in the steel mill.
I’ve never wanted to read memoirs before and I hardly read any non-fiction, but there was just something about this book, both the cover and the synopsis dragged me in. I’m so glad I listened to my instincts because this book is really something.
Right from the start, I never got the feeling that it was a memoir, it doesn’t read like a boring life story as you sometimes get in memoirs, no, this starts off strong and burning, right from the first line. Eliese’s writing turns this novel into something more, it isn’t just her life story, it’s also the story of many steelworkers, the people living in Cleveland, but most importantly, it’s a sort of ode to the American person, to the American dream.
The story is set in Cleveland, but I think it could resonate with a lot of people, even with people who aren’t living in a city with a steel mill or any other industrial factory. A lot of cities in the world rely on a business, a person, an entity, factory workers, etc, and this really shows how those places and people can be very important for the individual.
Before Eliese went to work at the steel mill, she was a house painter, but she never wanted to work in a “manual” field when she was a child. She grew up with the dream of being a nun and going to a convent, to help people in the world and bring Christianity into their lives. I am not a religious person and sometimes it bothers me if a story is too religious, or revolves around religion endlessly, but this one had just the right amount of religion and I enjoyed reading Eliese’s experiences with wishing for a miracle, and how eventually as she grew up, she moved away from her religion, only to go back to it in times of need. I think that this is an important element in the book, just to show how if you are passionate about something, it can be a life-raft for you if you start sinking.
Eliese wanted to join a convent after she finished high school, but eventually went to a religious college, earned her degree after massive struggles and hardships, and her dream was to become a teacher, once again, to help people in the world. However, her dreams didn’t come true, and she had to resort to the only thing that came out of Cleveland: steel.
One of the things I liked the most about this book was how she linked her work in the steel mill with politics, specifically about the Trump campaign and election, but also her childhood with religion as I have already said. Sometimes I struggle reading books with political themes because it always feels a bit personal to me, and the way that it is sometimes done can come across as “my political stance is better than yours”; but in Rust, there is none of that tension and ambiguity. Eliese talks about politics from when she was a child only starting to learn about the world around her, right to her days of working in the steel mill and she does so extremely well. I thought that the use of politics and the Trump campaign/election was an important choice to make because it shows just how impactful presidential events and decisions can be on a city, on a factory, on a single person. A lot of times people forget about the individual, and this book brings us back to the reality of things, reminds us to think about the little man first, I thought it was brilliant.
My favourite part of the book was all the little details from her job, I loved learning about the steel mill, the different jobs she had to do from when she was an Orange Hat, right up to when she was a Yellow Hat and then working in the Temper Mill; but I also adored reading about all the relationships, the people she met there and getting a glimpse into their lives and stories.
This is another one of those books that you don’t need to like a certain genre to appreciate, if you are interested in learning about peoples’ jobs, how they were brought up, just generally about their struggles and their strength in the face of difficulty, then this is the book for you.
I gave this book 5 stars, it was so beautifully written, I adored the different images that came to mind when she would explain, for instance, about how the molten iron resembled the pits of hell and she compared the factory to the Devil. This book is going to really stick with me, and I’m going to need to reread it again, to appreciate it even more! I highly recommend!
Thank you once again to Katya Ellis and Quercus Books for the ARC copy, receiving this book in no way distorted my opinion or my rating.
About the author – Eliese Colette Goldbach
Eliese Colette Goldbach is a steelworker at the ArcelorMittal Cleveland Temper Mill. She received an MFA in nonfiction from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Program. Her writing has appeared in Ploughshares, Western Humanities Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Best American Essays 2017. She received the Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Award and a Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant from the Ohioana Library Association.
If you would like to purchase this book, you can find it here: Amazon UK (affiliate link) – Amazon FR (affiliate link) – AbeBooks (affiliate link) – World Cat – Blackwell’s – Google (eBook) – Kobo (eBook)
This is a fantastic review! Have you read Becoming by Michelle Obama? That was the first memoir that popped in my head when you asked for recs! It’s incredible ❤️
Thank you so much! No I havent read it but it’s on my challenge TBRs at least twice this year so I’m really looking forward to it, thanks for recommending it, I might have to push it to the top, I really want to read some more memoirs! 💕