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A voyage into the human spirit
on 12 August 2004
Margaret Elphinstone deserves to be more widely read. This is her most ambitious and complex novel yet, and a deeper look at the themes explored in "The Sea Road" and "Hy Brazil". A journey across the Atlantic into the heart of Canada, a nation still in the process of formation, causes a young Quaker man to question every value and code of behaviour he has taken for granted. What began as a quest to discover the fate of his sister, who has mysteriously vanished into the wilderness, becomes a thrilling and disturbing encounter with a rich and complex civilization he has hitherto dismissed as "heathen savages".
Margaret Elphinstone wrote this book whilst on secondment to the University of Michigan, and travelled by canoe herself to research it. The attention to detail shows, as the landscape of the Canadian borderlands is brought vividly to life, and so completely does she inhabit the mind of her narrator and mimic the form of a genuine memoir, that the reader feels as if they are travelling beside him as his journey changes him to the depths of his being.
In addition, the story is well-paced and gripping; the pages turn quickly as the reader draws closer to the solution to the mystery, but there are no straightforward answers; the purpose of the journey becomes less important than the experience itself, both for the narrator and for the reader.