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Island of Wings [Paperback]

Karin Altenberg
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
RRP: £7.99
Price: £6.29 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

2 Feb 2012

Longlisted for the Orange Prize 2012.

1830. Neil and Lizzie MacKenzie, a newly married young couple, arrive at the remotest part of the British Isles: St Kilda. He is a minister determined to save the souls of the pagan inhabitants; his pregnant wife speaks no Gaelic and, when her husband is away, has only the waves and the cry of gulls for company.

As both find themselves tested to the limit in this harsh new environment, Lizzie soon discovers that marriage is as treacherous a country as the land that surrounds her.


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Island of Wings + The Life and Death of St. Kilda + Island on the Edge of the World: The Story of St Kilda
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857382330
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857382337
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A beautiful story of love and loss, precise, subtle, spiritually alive' Andrew O'Hagan.

'This lovely, haunting novel evokes the rough beauty of St Kilda ... A story of faith and love' The Times.

'Stunning' Guardian.

'Her literary achievement is astonishing ... A superb book' Scotsman.

'I was enchanted by the magic of the storytelling. This is a novelist with a future' Michael Holroyd, New Statesman.

'Emotional intensity is foregrounded and the nuances of Neil and Lizzie's relationship are set out in the writing like a heart on a sleeve ... Neil's psychological flaws are convincingly drawn' Guardian.

'Compelling' Daily Mail.

'This is an accomplished debut, beautiful and compelling' Good Book Guide.

'Karin Altenberg's debut novel is an impressive work of research and descriptive writing about Nature and place in a second language ... a penetrating insight into the psychology of a religious zealot and a relationship rolling inevitably towards destruction' Country Life.

From the Back Cover

Would you go to the end of the earth for love? 1830. Neil and Lizzie MacKenzie, a newly married young couple, arrive at the remotest part of the British Isles: St Kilda. He is a minister determined to save the souls of the pagan inhabitant; his pregnant wife speaks no Gaelic and, when her husband is away, has only the waves and the cry of gulls for company. As both find themselves tested to the limit in this harsh new environment, Lizzie soon discovers that marriage is as treacherous a country as the land that surrounds her.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is a wonderfully evocative book, based around the true tenure of the minister of the Church sent to the islands of St Kilda, Neil MacKenzie and his wife, in 1830. From then, until the book ends in 1844, we read of the lives of not only MacKenzie and his spiritual quest, but his wife and her own quest, and we catch glimpses of the lives of those who have for centuries endured life in the harsh environment of St Kilda. Stuck on small islands at the mercy of the elements, those who survived life in the St Kilda islands had a unique outlook on life, the universe, and their place within it. This is captured beautifully in this story; life was harsh, but made sense to the islanders. The cycle of life and death was real and known to them; their own struggles to bear and raise children to ensure the surirval of their way of life on the islands echo the struggles of the islands themselves, and the wildlife living on them.

I love books about times, people and places who are so far removed from our own lives and times; and this book captures a time and place that is totally alien to us now, so far distant in both its own reality and its own time. A time, unfortunately, that was doomed to eventually end for those who had for centuries survived on the harsh world on the edge of the Atlantic.

A wonderful story, beautifully written; highly recommended.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 26 Jun 2011
Format:Paperback
This is a well researched and well written book. Based on historical fact and with imagined emotion, the lives within the story are well presented. The characters are carefully drawn. The St Kildan culture is sensitively portrayed. The stories of the people, the land and the human emotion are raw and believable. I enjoyed being drawn into the lives of the islanders and the MacKenzies and have been inspired to do my own research into St Kilda before, and after the time in which the book is set.

I love the fact that this is an historical novel and that the stories of the characters continues after the last page.

An easy, thought provoking and thoroughly interesting read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling and beautifully written 25 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback
This book is difficult to put down as it is written beautifully and has a strong narrative drive. There are times when the characters are a little wooden because the author is walking a tightrope between fiction and history. However, Neil is wholly believable as a product of 19th century evangelism in Scotland, with a mass of contradictions and unpleasantness that he can justify by appeal to the authority of Heaven, Edinburgh or the workings of his own head. He is a character who is still recognizable today. Perhaps Lizzie is too, though the contemporary limitations imposed on her by duty, belief and geography are easier to overcome. There are a number of cultural references where the editing should have been more careful. For example, Paisley never had a Mayor (p. 10), there are mis-spellings of Gaelic (e.g., p. 62), and the famous St Kilda Surname of Gillies is rendered as "Gilles" throughout. However, reading the details and consequences of religious fervour chilled and delighted me, and awakened memories from many decades past. As a product of the manse, I remember it well.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A BEAUTIFUL TALE 25 Jun 2011
By J. Colin Moss VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A well-researched, well written story about the minister for the island of St Kilda.

At times exploring his thinking, at others his wife's, it is sensitive and beautifully put together, as the minister is ground down by events and his own experiences.

A gentle but incisive look at the lives of the people on the island as it became increasingly obvious that inhabitation there was unsustainable.

The story is based, in large part, on the diaries of the minister, as well as the historical record and related diaries. This gives a depth and texture to what would otherwise have been purely fictional.

This is a gentle and fascinating book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well researched tale, loosely based on fact 24 Mar 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have a long standing fascination with the St Kilda group of islands, having first heard of them during a visit to Shetland in 1988, and having also read Tom Steel's seminal work The Life and Death of St Kilda several times, so when I saw the paperback edition of this book on sale in Waterstones in late 2011, had to buy a copy.

I was not disappointed, as the story fascinated right from the first page. Both Lizzie and Neil are based on real people who actually did exist, and although much has been written about the historial Neil, little is known of his wife. This book aims to redress that imbalance, and like other books that I read that year (2011), is written much more from the female perspective.

I suppose this is what I liked about the story - the idea of this strong woman who supports her man by sailing almost to the other side of the world to live among illiterate farmers whose language she cannot even understand. During her time on the island Lizzie loses several children, and as her husband becomes more and more fervent in his faith, she feels herself gradually losing him too.

This book, although hypothetical and based only loosely on fact is still very well researched. The descriptions of the St Kildan landscape and way of life really bring the story to life, adding much more depth to what could otherwise have been a much less ordinary tale.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I thought it was a good read with a difference
Published 21 days ago by wendy Liz
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating historical novel
Well written, conveys a real atmosphere of austerity, natural beauty and is evocative of another era and place. It compelled me to find out more about st kilda as I read.
Published 28 days ago by nicki
1.0 out of 5 stars Such a dull read- I only finished it for book group- it's ...
Such a dull read- I only finished it for book group- it's turgidly written & as reviewed by others would have been a more interesting non fiction read.
Published 1 month ago by cait
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
A wonderful story. Part history part fable. .it captures an almost unimaginable moment in time and draws you into its alien world. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Brianpatrickwilliams
5.0 out of 5 stars Authenticity-is the overall word for this compelling read. Minister...
Authenticity-is the overall word for this compelling read. Minister and his new wife set sail to St. Kilda- where the inhabitants had a reputation for being 'savage'-. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Leisel-loves-to-read
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating read
I found this book she'd light on a man obsessed with his calling set in a time of harsh existence. Some wonderful descriptive writing
Published 3 months ago by James L. Weir
1.0 out of 5 stars Island of wings
this bok was a great disappointment.I was looking forward to learning about the island of st kilda, but it seems tge writter was more interested in trying to write a romanctic... Read more
Published 4 months ago by wallasey
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable
A fascinating story from start to finish, one I thoroughly enjoyed and found totally absorbing.
A book and author I would strongly recommend. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Butler john
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful story.
How lovely this book is. I have a real interest in the Islands and reading this brought to life some wonderful descriptions of the landscape on the outer hebrides and told of a... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Wendy McFarlane
4.0 out of 5 stars very thought provoking
This made an interesting read. Sometimes I wasn't sure how consistent the characters were but the historical aspect was worth it. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Philip E Arbon
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