San Miguel, which lies off the Southern California coast across from Santa Barbara, is now part of the Channel Island National park. In the 1880s and fast-forward to the 1930s and 1940s it was a bleak rainy, foggy and isolated island only fit for sheep farming.
The first settlers, Marantha Waters and her husband, Will, a Civil War veteran, arrive there by boat in 1888. Minnie, as her husband calls her, is suffering from tuberculosis. Why Will believes living on this island would restore her health is a question the reader ponders all through the time of their living there. The struggle to survive mentally, physically and economically is ongoing.
Five decades later, newlyweds Elise--a librarian from New York City--and Herbert Lester arrive on San Miguel ready and eager for the challenges. They find there a more modern house and a few conveniences but everything is still very primitive.
Their desire is to raise a family there away from the throes of the Great Depression. Elise comes to appreciate the island's beauty and adjusts to the austerity and drudgery. Two daughters are raised by the Lesters and schooled by Elise. Herbert makes a meager living raising sheep and selling wool.
World Wall ll looms and the island becomes a U.S. Navy outpost bringing men as "spotters." From then on change is paramount, both personally and nationally.
Boyle has written an historical narrative reminiscent of our country's pioneer history. According to a review in the Los Angeles Times, diaries and contemporary accounts formed the basis of his story. San Miguel is beautifully written and is not a fast read but engaging with superb characterization and description of the times portrayed. The hardships of the Waters and Lester families will live on in the reader's mind.
Recommended by Ruth Ann Johnson