Mar 7, 2015


by Frank Parker Day

On a remote island off the southern shore of Novia Scotia, young David ventures to claim a piece of land that is his by inheritance. It's difficult at first to make his livelihood and gain acceptance among the islanders. The community is mostly comprised of two families that are in constant friction- they argue over everything from who will marry whom, to whose task it is to fill a pothole in the common road. The harsh conditions and rough work make tough men, who are proud of their strength and skill. David finds his way among them, proving his worth and standing his ground against the "island king", an old man leader of one group of fishermen who makes all the important decisions. It was really intriguing reading not only the details about how fishermen make their living, but also the politics on the island, the gossiping and vying for power, the prevalence of ghost stories and superstitions. I was a bit surprised at how intent some of the men seemed to be on gaining wealth through their fishing enterprise, when they lived so crudely and seemed to just sit on the money. David's friend becomes keeper of the lighthouse on a small, even lonelier island and it was interesting again to read about the work involved in tending the lighthouse and ingeniously fixing it up when things broke and no supply ships could get in because of the weather. There's also a love story, acts of forgiveness and revenge, and a picture of how life on the island evolved over time. Machinery replacing some of the work done by cattle, women eventually getting to vote and choose their husbands instead of always being ruled by the men (even in these cases the men always had to save face in some way!) I even liked the details about managing the land- how the barren rock and thin topsoil was turned into rich gardens by composting with sea wrack- that appealed to the gardener in me!

Through it all there's the admirable character of David. He takes his hard knocks and comes through it. He survives shipwreck and debilitating injury, he doesn't stand in his best friends' way when they desire the same future. I thought it a bit far-stretched that this man could start reading Shakespeare's The Tempest shortly after learning how to read- but it made a nice allegory in the story. I almost didn't get into this book because at first the dialogue written in local slang really threw me off, but before long I was caught up in the narrative. There are some other disjointed parts in the beginning where the author suddenly tells what one character will do years ahead of the present storyline- and then jumps back into the flow- but after that it goes on fairly linear.

The afterword by Gwendolyn Davies is pretty interesting- it tells about the author's life and research, how the book was first published and its initially poor reception. Apparently the author had visited the fishing community on an island called Ironbound, to learn about the local culture. The inhabitants were offended when the book was finally published- though called fictional, they said it portrayed them in a bad light as being ignorant and crude. The book met strong disfavor and was out of print for over forty years, finally being reprinted in 1973.

Rating: 3/5       328 pages, 1928

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1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds good to me!