Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg

A profound study of the human spirit in the midst of death and isolation

Back Cover Blurb

On the ten-hour sailing west from the Hebrides to the islands of St Kilda, everything lies ahead for Lizzie and Neil MacKenzie. Neil is to become the minister to the small community of islanders and Lizzie, his new wife, is pregnant with their first child. Neil's journey is evangelical: a testing and strengthening of his own faith against the old pagan ways of the St Kildans, but it is also a passage to atonement. For Lizzie - bright, beautiful and devoted - this is an adventure, a voyage into the unknown. She is sure only of her loyalty and love for her husband, but everything that happens from now on will challenge all her certainties. As the two adjust to life on an exposed archipelago on the edge of civilization, where the natives live in squalor and subsist on a diet of seabirds, and babies perish mysteriously in their first week, their marriage - and their sanity - is threatened. Is Lizzie a willful temptress drawing him away from his faith? Is Neil's zealous Christianity unhinging into madness? And who, or what, is haunting the moors and cliff-tops? Exquisitely written and profoundly moving, Island of Wings is more than just an account of a marriage in peril - it is also a richly imagined novel about two people struggling to keep their love, and their family, alive in a place of terrible hardship and tumultuous beauty.

The Review

In the year 1830, a young, newly married couple arrive on the island/archipelago of Saint Kilda in the North Atlantic; an island at the far edges of the civilized world beyond the British Isles.

Neil Mackenzie, a minister, and his young wife, Lizzie, pregnant with her first child are there on a mission to bring Christianity to island people who live in squalor and extremely primitive conditions. One of the sole sources of food for the inhabitants are the sea birds.

Neil is deeply passionate about his faith and a man haunted by demons of the past. He fanatically dedicates to converting the pagan islanders to Christianity. Lizzie struggles to adjust to the primitive conditions where most newborn babies never survive past their second week of life and unable to communicate with neighbors because she cannot speak their native Gaelic tongue.

As her husband becomes more and more fanatical and authoritative with both Lizzie and the people he serves, Lizzie finds herself questioning her marriage and becoming more isolated.

The Island of Wings is a powerful study of the fragility of marriage, and the differences between a man and woman, past and present, Christian and paganism, and life and death.

The author’s prose evokes powerful images of the island’s landscape and delves deeply into emotions such as devotion, grief, and loneliness. With every word read of this tragic novel, I could feel the desolation and solitude, the despair and loss of hope. Hauntingly beautiful, this tale paints a vivid picture of an exotic, fascinating society that no longer exists. A beautiful, profound masterpiece!

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