Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Island of Wings

Island of Wings

3.4 7
by Karin Altenberg
     
 

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A dazzling debut novel of love and loss, faith and atonement, on an untamed nineteenth-century Scottish island.

Exquisitely written and profoundly moving, Island of Wings is a richly imagined novel about two people struggling to keep their love, and their family, alive in a place of extreme hardship and unearthly beauty. Everything lies ahead for

Overview

A dazzling debut novel of love and loss, faith and atonement, on an untamed nineteenth-century Scottish island.

Exquisitely written and profoundly moving, Island of Wings is a richly imagined novel about two people struggling to keep their love, and their family, alive in a place of extreme hardship and unearthly beauty. Everything lies ahead for Lizzie and Neil McKenzie when they arrive at the St. Kilda islands in July of 1830. Neil is to become the minister to the small community of islanders, and Lizzie-bright, beautiful, and devoted-is pregnant with their first child. As the two adjust to life at the edge of civilization, where the natives live in squalor and babies perish mysteriously, their marriage-and their sanity-are soon threatened.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Booklist
"Haunting yet beautiful, dark yet poetic...Drawing on historically accurate roots, including real-life figures Neil and Lizzie MacKenzie, Altenberg creates a mesmerizing tapestry that will surely linger in the reader's mind."
Julia Keller
"A heartbreaking tale, based on fact, about a minister and his restless wife sent to a remote island to save souls - perhaps at the cost of their own."
Anne Enright
"Island of Wings captures a world that disappears in the act of description, and the love, so inescapable and elusive, of the outsiders who try to tame it.With scrupulous attention to place, history, and the natural world, Island of Wings tells a story washed by a clean and lovely kind of sorrow."
Andrew O'Hagan
"'There are shades of Alistair MacLeod and of John McGahern in this beautiful story of love and loss among the dark sea cliffs of St Kilda. The book tastes wonderfully of its own weather, of sea salt on the tongue, and I read it with a rising sense of appreciation. ISLAND OF WINGS is a precise, subtle, spiritually alive debut from Karin Altenberg.."
-Julia Keller
"A heartbreaking tale, based on fact, about a minister and his restless wife sent to a remote island to save souls - perhaps at the cost of their own."
-Booklist
"Haunting yet beautiful, dark yet poetic...Drawing on historically accurate roots, including real-life figures Neil and Lizzie MacKenzie, Altenberg creates a mesmerizing tapestry that will surely linger in the reader's mind."
-Anne Enright
"Island of Wings captures a world that disappears in the act of description, and the love, so inescapable and elusive, of the outsiders who try to tame it.With scrupulous attention to place, history, and the natural world, Island of Wings tells a story washed by a clean and lovely kind of sorrow."
-Andrew O'Hagan
"'There are shades of Alistair MacLeod and of John McGahern in this beautiful story of love and loss among the dark sea cliffs of St Kilda. The book tastes wonderfully of its own weather, of sea salt on the tongue, and I read it with a rising sense of appreciation. ISLAND OF WINGS is a precise, subtle, spiritually alive debut from Karin Altenberg.."
From the Publisher
"A heartbreaking tale, based on fact, about a minister and his restless wife sent to a remote island to save souls - perhaps at the cost of their own." — Julia Keller, The Chicago Tribune [selected as a Best Book of 2011]

"Haunting yet beautiful, dark yet poetic...Drawing on historically accurate roots, including real-life figures Neil and Lizzie MacKenzie, Altenberg creates a mesmerizing tapestry that will surely linger in the reader's mind." — Booklist

"Island of Wings captures a world that disappears in the act of description, and the love, so inescapable and elusive, of the outsiders who try to tame it.With scrupulous attention to place, history, and the natural world, Island of Wings tells a story washed by a clean and lovely kind of sorrow."
Anne Enright, Booker Prize-winning author of The Gathering

"In this winning debut, Altenberg, a trained archeologist, brings a subtle voice to this odd bit of history, in which faith and marriage are no match for isolation." — Kirkus Reviews

"'There are shades of Alistair MacLeod and of John McGahern in this beautiful story of love and loss among the dark sea cliffs of St Kilda. The book tastes wonderfully of its own weather, of sea salt on the tongue, and I read it with a rising sense of appreciation. ISLAND OF WINGS is a precise, subtle, spiritually alive debut from Karin Altenberg.." — Andrew O'Hagan, author of Our Fathers

"Based on documentary sources, this evocative debut novel enmeshes readers in a society that no longer exists, on rugged Scottish islands few tourists visit. Complex characters and historical events that impact the lives of the islanders provide much to ponder and discuss." — Library Journal

Library Journal
When young Church of Scotland minister Neil MacKenzie arrives with his wife, Lizzie, on the Scottish archipelago of St. Kilda in 1830, he intends to strengthen the residents' Christian faith and modernize their way of life. The remote, treeless islands house thousands of seabirds that provide much of the local food and influence numerous customs. Determined to set an example of righteousness and haunted by guilt over a friend he let drown, Neil fears expressing love for anyone, even his wife and children. Although he can communicate with residents in their native Gaelic and Lizzie knows only English, she achieves greater empathy, particularly with the women after she loses three babies. Lizzie finds companionship with an English-speaking girl hired to help her and later is drawn dangerously close to a shipwrecked sailor she nurses back to health. VERDICT Based on documentary sources, this evocative debut novel enmeshes readers in a society that no longer exists, on rugged Scottish islands few tourists visit. Complex characters and historical events that impact the lives of the islanders provide much to ponder and discuss. A fine book club candidate.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato
Kirkus Reviews
A fictionalized account of 19th-century Scotsman Neil MacKenzie as he and his wife convert the natives of St. Kilda. In many ways this is the proverbial story of colonization--an earnest, naïve minister is sent to a distant shore to save souls and promote the Empire's notion of modernity. What makes MacKenzie's story so singular is that St. Kilda is located no more than 40 miles off the coast of Scotland, inhabited for 1,000 years by Gaelic-speaking Norsemen. When MacKenzie and his young wife Lizzie arrive in the summer of 1830, though they are to live in the newly constructed manse, they are shocked by the primitive conditions of the islanders. Shod in rags and island wool, the St. Kildans live in turf huts (in which every kind of waste is layered into the floor during winter) and only one in three children survive past their first week. The tax man (the island belongs to a laird on the mainland) comes a few times per year to collect his revenue in feathers and drop off supplies, but generally the islanders live in isolation. MacKenzie begins by drilling the catechism and in true British fashion comes up with a scheme to improve island productivity. As Neil is occupied with the St. Kildans, Lizzie lives in a solitude more profound than the islanders. Unlike her husband she speaks no Gaelic, and so must wait years for company when finally a maid is sent from the mainland. As the years progress Neil and Lizzie, devoted as newlyweds, fall into an icy truce. Before a kind of desperate madness transforms Neil into that familiar Kurtz-like figure, he manages to rebuild the village and divide the shared farmland. For the communal St. Kildans, whose interdependence is vital, this new scheme of individuality has dire consequences. In this winning debut, Altenberg, a trained archaeologist, brings a subtle voice to this odd bit of history, in which faith and marriage are no match for isolation.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143120667
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/27/2011
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,187,644
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.74(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Anne Enright
"Island of Wings captures a world that disappears in the act of description, and the love, so inescapable and elusive, of the outsiders who try to tame it.With scrupulous attention to place, history, and the natural world, Island of Wings tells a story washed by a clean and lovely kind of sorrow."
Andrew O'Hagan
"'There are shades of Alistair MacLeod and of John McGahern in this beautiful story of love and loss among the dark sea cliffs of St Kilda. The book tastes wonderfully of its own weather, of sea salt on the tongue, and I read it with a rising sense of appreciation. ISLAND OF WINGS is a precise, subtle, spiritually alive debut from Karin Altenberg.."
Julia Keller
"A heartbreaking tale, based on fact, about a minister and his restless wife sent to a remote island to save souls - perhaps at the cost of their own."

Meet the Author

Karin Altenberg is senior advisor to the Swedish National Heritage Board and is a fellow of the Linnean Society. She is currently at work on her second novel. She lives in London.

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