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Island: The Complete Stories [Paperback]

Alistair MacLeod
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 28 2011
The sixteen exquisitely crafted stories in Island prove Alistair MacLeod to be a master. Quietly, precisely, he has created a body of work that is among the greatest to appear in English in the last fifty years. A book-besotted patriarch releases his only son from the obligations of the sea. A father provokes his young son to violence when he reluctantly sells the family horse. A passionate girl who grows up on a nearly deserted island turns into an ever-wistful woman when her one true love is felled by a logging accident. A dying young man listens to his grandmother play the old Gaelic songs on her ancient violin as they both fend off the inevitable. The events that propel MacLeod's stories convince us of the importance of tradition, the beauty of the landscape, and the necessity of memory.

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Island: The Complete Stories + No Great Mischief + As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories
Price For All Three: CDN$ 44.47

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From Amazon

Island collects into a single volume the superbly crafted stories of Alistair MacLeod. In addition to their original appearances in North America's finest literary journals (and various reprints in Best American Stories and other prestigious anthologies), all but two of the attentive, meditative stories filled the previous books The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986). These two books were enough to gain MacLeod the admiration of readers in numerous languages and writers as diverse as Michael Ondaatje, Joyce Carol Oates, and Colm Tóibín.

With unseen, magician's fingers, MacLeod makes the craggy rocks and wave-slapped bays of rugged Cape Breton Island speak for themselves. As in "The Boat," in which the very walls of a house and the fixtures of a boat find voice and carry the story, the stories in Island sing in a choir of voices not exclusively human. Dogs, the lamps of isolated lighthouses, winding roads, and slabs of winter ice sing together in voices both regional and universal. The sternness of the landscape and the livelihoods of MacLeod's people inflect both the actions of his characters and the voice of their narration. In the tragic "As Birds Bring Forth the Sun," a "man with a Highland name who lived beside the sea" nurses an injured dog despite the protests of "the more practical members of his family, who had seen run-over dogs before, [who] suggested that her neck be broken by his strong hands or that he grasp her by the hind legs and swing her head against a rock." These are timeless, ageless stories not only because they will last alongside the similarly dense and striking stories of Chekhov or Carver, but also because in reading them we are ageless, simultaneously child, young lover, and aged hand. --Darryl Whetter --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

One of Canada's most important writers, MacLeod grew up in Cape Breton. Here he presents a powerful collection of short stories set on Canada's Eastern shore, where the traditions and Gaelic language of transplanted Scots continue in a harsh new world. All of these affecting, elegiac tales focus on the strong ties of loving kin, particularly the link between fathers and sons. Fathers share the experience of work with their sons, and boys puzzle over family events and tragedies and learn to be men in the close-knit communities. Sadly, as times change, fathers lose their sons, who become educated men and leave the land and sea for professions in the city. MacLeod's characters are deeply touching and memorable, and their simple lives are rich with loyalty and affection for their families and way of life. The sumptuous language, which immerses the reader in this stunning but unrelenting land, begs to be read aloud. A very special collection; recommended for all public libraries.DCathleen A. Towey, Port Washington P.L., NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vanishing Way of Life March 18 2002
By A Customer
Alistair MacLeod writes of isolation and loneliness and loss. His characters are often solitary people, yet they are solitary people with a strong sense of both history and community...the community of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
MacLeod's characters are a dying breed, people we don't see many of these days: coal miners, fishermen, farmers, lighthouse keepers. They are a people held together by a strong Gaelic thread; they speak Gaelic, sing Gaelic songs and live lives upheld and reinforced by strong Gaelic traditions. They are a rural people and they very much prefer things to stay the way they have been.
But, as we all know, things never stay the way they have been. MacLeod's rural characters are the older ones. The younger ones have left the lonely farms of Cape Breton to work and study in the cities. The tourists are moving in, and, finding the Cape Breton landscape "unspoiled," and, therefore, very much to their liking, they are spoiling and defiling it, taking the first steps toward turning it into the very thing from which they wish to escape.
In "Island," MacLeod, writes mainly of the modern, city-wise, young people who come home to visit the dying world from which they wanted to escape. What they find is a world and a culture that will not die, that refuses to be obliterated. "The Closing Down of Summer" is a story that illustrates this persistence of the past perfectly.
MacLeod is at his best in this collection of stories. His prose is emotional but never maudlin, precise but never terse and it possesses a rhythm so Gaelic it can't fail to strike a chord of recognition in anyone who is in the least bit familiar with Cape Breton and its inhabitants.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Stories Aug. 28 2001
I found the stories in Alistair MacLeod's Island to be beautifully moving--some incredibly powerful, others merely just very good. These are contemplative stories and because they all deal with similar underlying topics (but altogether different stories)--the return to the rural, the countryside's slow adaptation to change, youth contrasted with age--it makes sense to read these stories slowly, over several weeks. I believe reading these quickly may cause them to blend together, something you don't want to do because each story has its unique original beauty. MacLeod writes very carefully and his prose is very, I don't know, almost heavy, very powerful. You have to be in a contemplative mood, I believe, to appreciate these stories. This is not a collection for that cross country plane ride, or your week at the beach. Rather, these are stories to be savored slowly, in peace and quiet. Well done.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Memory and Myth Aug. 5 2001
I needed to read these stories after finding MacLeod's No Great Mischief. His scene is Cape Breton. His times are those of his unfolding generations of Scots. His style is idiosycratic. He can make you believe that he was there, whenever the time, whoever the family, whatever the cameo experience.
MacLeod uses the voices of generations of Canadians who always remember that they are Scots. They are Scottish even if they have never seen their country or never even know just where their forebears belonged.
The stories are simple. In the Golden Gift of Grey, eighteen year old Jesse pockets his first pool balls and his first winning dollars. Macleod makes scenes like this live through the smells of the bar, its men's washroom and the gyrations of the dancer. The edge of Jesse's tension is seen through the limp, damp dollar notes of his winnings, crammed in a ball in his pockets. The twist to end the story is satisfying, if predictable.
Some of the stories are tough and tell of a harsh life. Again MacLeod evokes his scenes through heat and cold, rain and hail and snow and through light and dark. His men can be mean and cautious, but also complicated and kind, especially the many grandfathers. In To Everything There is a Season, Macleod is able to build a tension in a little story about a son's homecoming at Christmas that would do justice to a suspense story.
Macleod is a craftsman writer. He shows his characters through their scenes rather than through descriptive narrative about personality. These are very satisfying stories and I have to say that I hunger for more of the tales of Cape Breton from this writer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional March 6 2001
One of the wise Elders in the story says. "Music is the lubricant of the poor all over the world. In all the different languages." Books like these and the people who write them provide the same comfort, and encouragement, and are a gift for readers to continue reading when there seems to be less writing of this caliber produced. The quote from the first paragraph is actually from Mr. Alistair MacLeod's work, "No Great Mischief". It was the first novel he wrote and was one of the finest reading experiences in the last several years for me. This collection of short stories was published in 2 separate books prior to his novel, and they distinguished him as one of the great talents writing today.
These stories may indeed be short when measured by the page; however any given piece that you care to choose is essentially faultless. The concept of, "second sight", is a subject that arises in some of these tales, and while Mr. MacLeod may not have that particular brand of vision, he like any great writer does see things differently than most people perceive them. And his sensitivity to detail extends to the other senses, and then he is able to place it upon pages for the rest of us to enjoy. He engages the reader on every level with the environment he creates, the sounds, and the very texture of the places he brings you to. This is the kind of work that you get so deeply involved with that you think about these people as real, as real as the names of the places they live, work, and die that appear on a map.
I don't believe there is one transcendent theme he is presenting with these stories, there is far too much involved in each to place a label on them all. The climate is as vital as many of his characters, and he imbues it with personality that is nearly sentient.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good book
Published 2 months ago by Marilyn Roach
5.0 out of 5 stars Condition like new!
This used book looked like new and I was able to offer it as a gift. Also, it arrived faster than expected. I was thrilled.
Published 5 months ago by A. Kenney
5.0 out of 5 stars READ
Alistair MacLeod is one of Canada's best writers- 'nuff said. Set in Cape Breton, it gives an insight into the culture and mysteries of the region.
Published 8 months ago by stephen boka
3.0 out of 5 stars not my cup of tea either
I would have to agree with a previous reviewer who said that while he appreciates the works of such a talent as Alistair MacLeod, this book is just not my cup of tea and I don't... Read more
Published on Nov. 19 2010 by Halifax Mary
1.0 out of 5 stars Misrepresenting the Truth
One of the great lies existing within Canada is that the corner of the world known as "Cape Breton" is a mystical, haunting, culturally rich area. Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2002 by S Freud
4.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificent Work
MacLeod's stories evoke a sense of place better than most living writers. He does not rend his characters with relentless descriptions of their appearance (in fact, in some of the... Read more
Published on Jan. 1 2002 by Steve R
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable.
Alistair MacLeod leads us to a community that is both foreign (to those far from Atlantic coast Canada) and deeply familiar. You can't help but be moved. Read more
Published on Dec 19 2001
Fans of Alistair MacLeod, please understand -- I respect his writing abilities, but this book disappointed me. Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2001 by Larry L. Looney
5.0 out of 5 stars One of our greatest living writers!
Alistair MacLeod is a Canadian national treasure. I hope they appreciate his talent as much as I. This collection reaches deep in to the psyche of natives of Cape Breton Island,... Read more
Published on May 1 2001 by Jan McGreger
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to savor
Macleod's sixteen short stories are a treasure, tales of growing up, going away, coming home, and dying, on the beautiful and terrible island of Cape Breton. Read more
Published on April 17 2001 by Reader
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