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For the Islands I Sing: An Autobiography [Paperback]

George Mackay Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

12 Mar 1998
George Mackay Brown wrote this memoir in the years before his death in 1996, but he did not want it published while he lived. In particular, he looks at Orkney, where he was born the youngest child in a poor family, and which he rarely left.


Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; New edition edition (12 Mar 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719558891
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719558894
  • Product Dimensions: 21.7 x 13.9 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,170,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description

Review

"A hauntingly beautiful memoir." Maggie Parham. -- Literary Review

About the Author

George Mackay Brown was one of the greatest Scottish writers of the twentieth century. A prolific poet, admired by such fellow poets as Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, he was also an accomplished novelist and a master of the short story. He died at the age of 74 on 13 April 1996.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a monotonous song 19 Aug 2010
By Sentinel TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
For a uniquely gifted writer, George MacKay Brown was very self-efacing, if not downright shy about his undoubted talent. I love the bone-spare, austere beauty of his writing, whether poetry or prose, and have a 'mini library' of his magical tales which inhabit both past and present (like leaning against a standing stone in an Orkney field watching a farmer drive past in a shiny modern tractor: the modern and the ancient co-exist side by side).
So what has this got to do with his autobiography? Well, the reason I found this so flat, and lacking in revelation and insight, is that George was comfortable writing creatively, but loathed public display, or 'having to perform': it gave him the chills. It just might be worth reading if you know little about the man, but you'd find it much more fulfilling to read some of his marvellous tales instead. Try 'A Calendar of Love' or 'A Time to Keep' for starters: superb examples of the concentrated web of magic he weaves, filled with love, compassion and forgiveness for the characters he describes. If you want to unlock a little of the mysterious 'feel' of an Orkney setting, try the chapters on Rackwick or Birsay in An Orkney Tapestry. If you then want to explore the life of this unique wordsmith, try Maggie Ferguson's superbly lyrical biography George Mackay Brown: The Life. I envy you the journey...
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars magic inspired by the isles 10 Oct 2003
Format:Paperback
what can i say. GMB is a fantastic writer, poet, dramatist and in the pages of this book you really do get to know the real man behind the magical writings he has produced over the years. ill health in childhood is perhaps the reason GMB was able to share his delightful imaginative work with us as prolonged perionds in isolation left him time to day dream and create his wonderful characters and tales. we learn of his time away from orkney where he was able to study at college, and spend time amongst some of the countries great scholars and thinkers of the time. it is such a shame that GMB has past away but we can be thankful he has left us so much to remember him by. this book is a must for any avid reader.
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Format:Paperback
The cover of this book describes it as an Autobiography but it is more of a collection of jottings in which MacKay Brown tells us exactly what he chooses to and refuses to allow us more than the wee-est of peeps into what he really thinks.

No harm in that and he is honest enough to admit that he was a very strange character indeed who lived with his mother in a council house in Orkney for most of his life, apart from several years in Edinburgh, and never formed a stable relationship with a woman.

"I never fell in love with anybody, and no woman ever fell in love with me," as he puts it. He then adds somewhat unconvincingly: "I used to wonder about this gap in my experience, but it never unduly worried me."

He also had serious problems with tuberculosis and submitted to Scotland's main illness, i.e. alcoholism although he survived them both.

At the same time, he misses the opportunity to share his experiences with the leading figures in the Scottish literary revival.

He socialized with writers like Hugh MacDiarmid whom he memorably describes as the "great king of Scottish letters" and "a kilted man with a terrier-head".

He drops a few comments on poets like Sydney Goodsir Smith and Norman MacCaig. However, we can only sigh in frustration at what we could have learned about this crowd of literary talent who gathered at the Abbotsford pub or Milne's Bar in Edinburgh all those decades ago.

I was quite interested in his comments on how he eventually converted to Catholicism from Presbyterianism, a road seldom travelled, particularly in the west coast of Scotland where I come from and where, alas, sectarianism is still rife.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Autobiography of a Wonderful Talent 18 July 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
GM Brown did not wish this book to be published until after his death. The book makes it clear that he was a person who did not like to talk about himself. He was a self-effacing and extremely humble genius. I am not suprised that several readers had trouble finding Brown here. Brown sought most of all to be a member of his community in Stromness. He was a writer by trade as others were fishermen or cobblers. Brown's observations on life in Orkney and the cycles of History are what make this book so rewarding. Readers looking for heavy self-exploration or a confessional type work will be dissappointed. As was the reader looking for a description of Orkney life. This is Brown's life and observances and influences laid out for those of us who love his work. I, for one enjoyed being able to hear Brown's reminiscences and ideas. This is wonderful reading and necessary for those who want added insight into Brown's work and philosophy. Honest, humble and powerful. A fitting final work from one of the 20th century's greatest writers.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A series of incidents do not a life make 17 Jan 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I too failed to find GMB in his autobiography, and I had read some of his fiction and poetry first. Reading this book you learn of some things that happened to GMB, but you never end up feeling like you got to know the man at all. His style of writing in this autobiography is consistent with his style of writing fiction, but it's less satisfying in the context of autobiography.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wee Peep into the Mind of One of Scotland's Greatest Writers 29 Oct 2011
By John Fitzpatrick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The cover of this book describes it as an Autobiography but it is more of a collection of jottings in which MacKay Brown tells us exactly what he chooses to and refuses to allow us more than the wee-est of peeps into what he really thinks.

No harm in that and he is honest enough to admit that he was a very strange character indeed who lived with his mother in a council house in Orkney for most of his life, apart from several years in Edinburgh, and never formed a stable relationship with a woman.

"I never fell in love with anybody, and no woman ever fell in love with me," as he puts it. He then adds somewhat unconvincingly: "I used to wonder about this gap in my experience, but it never unduly worried me."

He also had serious problems with tuberculosis and submitted to Scotland's main illness, i.e. alcoholism although he survived them both.

At the same time, he misses the opportunity to share his experiences with the leading figures in the Scottish literary revival.

He socialized with writers like Hugh MacDiarmid whom he memorably describes as the "great king of Scottish letters" and "a kilted man with a terrier-head".

He drops a few comments on poets like Sydney Goodsir Smith and Norman MacCaig. However, we can only sigh in frustration at what we could have learned about this crowd of literary talent who gathered at the Abbotsford pub or Milne's Bar in Edinburgh all those decades ago.

I was quite interested in his comments on how he eventually converted to Catholicism from Presbyterianism, a road seldom travelled, particularly in the west coast of Scotland where I come from and where, alas, sectarianism is still rife.

Otherwise, much of his comments and views on literature and modern life are rather banal, apologetic and of little interest.

Having said that, I am sure admirers of MacKay Brown will enjoy this work.

There is a biography of him by Maggie Fergusson which fleshes out his bond with a woman in Edinburgh called Stella Cartwright whom he mentions in this book, thereby casting doubt on his claim never to have had any romantic relationship.
3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Memoir: Spin rather than Substance? 13 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I could not with any certainty find Brown in these pages. Having never read his poems, stories, or novels, I didn't have any preconceived notion for whom I was looking. But I think I only got fleeting glimpses, and I am not sure of whom. I know I didn't find Orcadians, for whom I was definitely looking. So I will try a book of his verse, a collection of stories, and a novel. If I don't, I will be left with the impression of a somewhat self-absorbed, more than somewhat lazy, bit more than average talent.
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