This is a mesmerizing story set in the remote Scottish island chain of St. Kilda and tells the tale of a young minister and his wife who come to Christianize and civilize the primitive and isolated community in the 1830's. What is really intriguing is that this is based on fact: the Rev. Neil MacKenzie and his wife Lizzie did raise a family and live on the island for 13 years, but it is all brought intensely to life as we experience the struggles and hardships of the natives through this book.
On an island without trees, and only visited once a year with a ship from the mainland bringing supplies, the people live off the sea birds whose migration paths cross the islands' rocky ramparts. The homes of the inhabitants are basically windowless hovels carved into the earth, with animals living among the people and the animal dung used not just for fertilizer, but also as an insulating material in the walls and floors. Many of the infants born in the island die within eight days of a mysterious sickness. The children grow up almost wild, illiterate, and one with the sea. As adults they are a superstitious and primitive lot, yet seem to have a deep acceptance of the harshness of nature, and a kindness unspoiled by civilization.
This is a sad, poetically told but compelling story of love and hardship and the melancholy of isolation, not just of nature, but of the human heart.
Recommended by Betsy Schroeder