|Rose City: A Memoir of Work is about what works in us. Jean Harper recounts leaving her comfortable married life in Massachusetts and moving to Indiana to be with the man she loves. There, for a time, she is a member of a crew cutting roses in a greenhouse, and she becomes immersed in the lives of the working poor.
While at her labors in the greenhouse, she explores other matters in her life: the culture shock of moving from the East to the Midwest, her divorce, her mother’s Parkinson’s, a lightning strike on her family’s home, and the sometimes infelicitous reactions she and her lover endure as they settle in together. Among people too often disdained as “rednecks,” “hilljacks,” or even “poor white trash,” Harper encounters wisdom, a vast wellspring of strength, quiet humor, and resilient grace in her new home town—and in herself.
"Rose City: A Memoir of Work offers readers many pleasures—the close observation of workplace skills and behaviors, the vibrant depiction of an engaging cast of characters, the calm and inviting voice of its narrator, the tactful yet candid presentation of painful personal memories. All these make the book engaging and involving, but it accomplishes its ends so quietly and honestly that it's possible to overlook the rich complexity of its achievement. The book also inadvertently answers some issues that have arise about memoir. … Memoir isn't simply a narrative of the sensational or the celebrated or the extreme life excitingly recounted; it isn't only the provenance of survivors of horrendous events and/or choices or of relatives of the prominent or notorious; at its most effective, memoir is a narrative of the normal life well observed and evocatively rendered. In this sense Rose City is a model of the form."—Robert J. Root , Jr., Fourth Genre
"Rose City is a remarkable contribution to the literature of labor, a working woman's portrait of an industry that has virtually disappeared from the United States. … Nowadays, should you want to bring your love a bouquet of red roses, be advised that such blooms have been coaxed by pesticides illegal in the United States, tended and picked by even lower-paid, less-protected laborers (most of them women). … Perhaps a book about roses—grandifloras, hybrid teas with 'the faintest of fragrances, like clean-washed hands,' sweetheart Minuettes with vanilla petals 'dipped in ruby sugar'—a story of love made manifest in the work of roses, is a better gift."—Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The anguish of divorce and the anxiety surrounding an uncertain future are explored with blazing honesty and sublime poignancy in Harper’s stellar account of the months she worked in the greenhouses of E. G. Hill, once the largest grower of roses in the world. … Harper’s elegiac and eloquent narrative is a beacon of pure, clear light."—Booklist
"Part love story, part natural history, part social commentary, Jean Harper's memoir is entirely absorbing. She reveals greenhouse roses blossoming from minimum-wage labor and a brew of poisons, and she reveals midlife romance blossoming from the wreckage of earlier marriages. While her work in the greenhouse may be a penance for the rupture of families, this book is a work of healing."—Scott Russell Sanders, author of Hunting for Hope and A Private History of Awe