Rachael Hanel’s ‘graveyard life’ memoir resonates with spirit of ‘Our Town’

By Amy Goetzman

Hanel_LastOnes cover“It takes a village to raise a child, and for me, that village was the graveyard,” says Mankato writer Rachael Hanel in her new memoir, “We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down” (University of Minnesota Press).

Like a character straight from folklore, Hanel is the daughter of a gravedigger, “Digger O’Dell,” and until her father’s own too-early death, she grew up playing among the headstones, helping her parents tend graves, watching families bury their loved ones and pondering the deep matters of life and death.

Hanel’s family tended cemeteries in the farming region of Waseca, and she got to know the residents of these stony neighborhoods from a unique perspective. This isn’t just a personal memoir; she writes eloquently about the lives and deaths of family, neighbors, and strangers with sympathy and care.

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