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Alistair MacLeod, OC FRSC (July 20, 1936 – April 20, 2014) was a Canadian novelist, short story writer and academic. His powerful and moving stories vividly evoke the beauty of Cape Breton Island's rugged landscape and the resilient character of many of its inhabitants, the descendants of Scottish immigrants, who are haunted by ancestral memories and who struggle to reconcile the past and the present. MacLeod has been praised for his verbal precision, his lyric intensity and his use of simple, direct language that seems rooted in an oral tradition.
The sixteen exquisitely crafted stories in Island prove Alistair MacLeod to be a master. Quietly, precisely, he has created a body of work that is among the greatest to appear in English in the last fifty years. A book-besotted patriarch releases his only son from the obligations of the sea. A father provokes his young son to violence when he reluctantly sells the family horse. A passionate girl who grows up on a nearly deserted island turns into an ever-wistful woman when her one true love is felled by a logging accident. A dying young man listens to his grandmother play the old Gaelic songs on her ancient violin as they both fend off the inevitable. The events that propel MacLeod's stories convince us of the importance of tradition, the beauty of the landscape, and the necessity of memory.
From the internationally celebrated author of No Great Mischief comes a moving short story of three generations of men from a single family whose lives are forever altered by the long shadow of war. In the early morning hours of November 11, David MacDonald, a veteran of the Second World War, stands outside his Cape Breton home, preparing to attend what will likely be his last Remembrance Day parade. As he waits for the arrival of his son and grandson, he remembers his decision to go to war in desperation to support his young family. He remembers the horrors of life at the frontlines in Ortona, Italy, and then what happened in Holland when the Canadians arrived as liberators. He remembers how the war devastated his own family, but gave him other reasons to live. As the story unfolds, other generations enter the scene. What emerges is an elegant, life-affirming meditation on the bond between fathers and sons, "e;how the present always comes out of the past,"e; and how even in the midst of tragedy and misfortune there exists the possibility for salvation. His first new short story in over a decade, Remembrance is a powerful reminder of why Alistair MacLeod is one of the most beloved storytellers of our time.
These slow, beautiful stories - resolute and resonant - are small masterpieces: apparently simple but actually crafted with enormous skill and precision. Set against the unforgiving landscape of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, they are all concerned with the complexities and mysteries of the human heart, the unbreakable bonds and unbridgeable chasms between man and woman, parent and child. Steeped in memory and myth and washed in the brine and blood of the long battle with the land and the sea, these stories celebrate a passionate engagement with the natural world and a continuity of the generations in the face of transition, in the face of love and loss. As John McGahern says in his eloquent foreword: 'the work has a largeness, of feeling, of intellect, of vision, a great openness and generosity, even an old-fashioned courtliness. The stories stand securely outside of fashion while reflecting deep change'. Bringing together all Alistair MacLeod's short fiction, and including two previously uncollected stories, Island represents the great achievement of one of the world's finest storytellers.
In 1779, driven out of his home, Calum MacDonald sets sail from the Scottish Highlands with his extensive family. After a long, terrible journey he settles his family in 'the land of trees', and eventually they become a separate Nova Scotian clan: red-haired and black-eyed, with its own identity, its own history. It is the 1980s by the time our narrator, Alexander MacDonald, tells the story of his family, a thrilling and passionate story that intersects with history: with Culloden, where the clans died, and with the 1759 battle at Quebec that was won when General Wolfe sent in the fierce Highlanders because it was 'no great mischief if they fall'.