Island of Wings

Karin Altenberg, Author
Karin Altenberg. Penguin, $15 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-14-312066-7
Open Ebook - 321 pages - 978-1-77089-051-0
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Swedish-born archeologist Altenberg imagines the internal struggles of two historical figures in her debut. In the summer of 1830, Rev. Neil MacKenzie and his wife, Lizzie, set sail for the island of St. Kilda. The couple is young and hopeful: Lizzie, pregnant and adoring her new husband; Neil, deeply spiritual and confident in his mission. Though St. Kilda is off the coast of Scotland, the MacKenzies step into a world completely foreign. The Gaelic-speaking natives live in filth and squalor, yet in perfect harmony with one another. Neil’s need to convert the idyllic natives becomes highly ironic, and he sees in Lizzie’s unfortunate miscarriage a grave trespass. As Lizzie battles loneliness and despair, Neil throws himself into converting the islanders (more for himself than for them), and the novel darkens. Altenberg’s book is deeply entrenched in historical detail, vivid in its descriptions of geography, and more successful as anthropological history than novel. A late passage, however, creates a moving portrait of the couple greatly changed by their hardships. Incorporating the politics of the creation of the Free Church out of the Church of Scotland, the story shows the limits of love and devotion—in people and in faith. Agent: Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Jan.)
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