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New historical fiction novel asks, who gets to be American?

The new novel American Ending by Mary Kay Zuravleff received praise from a range of critics. Oprah selected it for her Best Books for Spring reading list. Kirkus Reviews gushed that the voice of the young narrator, Yelena, is so vivid, “it feels like Zuravleff is channeling a real person.”

But there must be something beyond the irresistible writing that makes us care so much about Yelena and her family. These characters, most of them immigrants, lived more than a century ago in a mining town at the southwestern edge of Pennsylvania. What do they have in common with us?

The Mariana Mine is part of the story in American Ending. The mine was built to be safe, but 152 miners died in an explosion there. It was the tenth deadliest explosion in American mining history.

Another significant historical event featured in Zuravleff's novel is the Expatriation Act. Learn more on NPR’s “Code Switch” and at the National Archives.

Sheilah Kast is the host of On The Record, Monday-Friday, 9:30-10:00 am.
Sam Bermas-Dawes is a producer for On The Record.