Alistair MacLeod (pronounced “Ma Cloud”, not “Mac Lee-owed” as I originally thought), is a son of Nova Scotia. Specifically, a son of Cape Breton, which is a geographically and culturally isolated part of the Canadian island province.
Island is a collection of MacLeod’s short stories, primarily set against the backdrop of Cape Breton. He masterfully examines mortality, love, depression (both of the economic and the psychological varieties), familial duty, cultural norms, hardship, happiness, contentment, struggle, complacency, and finding one’s place in the world.
I picked up this set of stories to read while we traveled around Nova Scotia. I wanted to get a deeper understanding of the essence of the place, which is difficult to get on a week-long sightseeing trip. You have to examine the hearts and minds of the people living there in order to understand that, and I thought MacLeod’s stories would be a good avenue for pursuing this. I was correct.
I find it best to read works like this while you are actually visiting the place. You can look up from the pages and see the same landscape the characters traversed, the same seas they sailed, feel the same wind against your face. You can look in the eyes of the people you meet in the local shops and see the history you’ve been reading about in their faces, the grit and determination in their actions, the acquiescence in their routines.
I plan on revisiting this collection again, probably when I return to Nova Scotia. I may pick up No Great Mischief instead, MacLeod’s famous novel.