Island of Wings
By Karin Altenberg
(Penguin Books, Paperback, 9780143120667, 320pp.)
Publication Date: December 27, 2011
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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 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.
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.
"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."
"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."
"'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."