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by Gail S. Fraser

Pub Date: May 16th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-03-913384-6
Publisher: FriesenPress

In Fraser’s debut historical novel, a Scottish couple weathers the challenges of immigration to America.

In 1895 Scotland, William Fraser leaves his native Highlands for Dundee looking for work—even though conventional wisdom says that “you go to Dundee to find a woman, not a job.” This proves to be correct on both counts: William arrives to find the town shut down due to a strike by the women who work at the jute-fiber factories; he finally finds work loading wagons, and through a co-worker, he meets Mary Coyle, one of the jute spinners. The two quickly fall in love, although the pairing is not without controversy; Mary’s Irish Catholic father doesn’t condone her marriage to the Protestant William. William’s pending departure for the United States presents an even greater obstacle: His industrious father, Jack, has gone to work in the mines over there, and he wants William to join him. As William attempts to locate his dad in boomtowns across the American West, Mary lingers with her family in Dundee. Can their nascent love survive the time apart? It will depend on whether William can survive the mines’ deplorable conditions. Fraser’s prose quickly and effectively summons the dust and soot of the era without feeling stilted or antiquated, as in this passage, in which William makes his way through the streets of turn-of-the-century Seattle: “Walking felt good, though William had to dodge Commercial Street’s occupants: people were hawking wares, and men, both well dressed and ragged looking, and women with parasols were looking at storefront windows.” The author also succeeds in recreating the hardscrabble working conditions, both in Scotland and in the United States. However, there’s a feeling of inevitability to the plot that robs it of some of its liveliness. There’s plenty of movement, and it hums along nicely, but readers may find that the characters are generally too likable, and that their relationships feel too clean. Even so, fans of historical fiction will find much here to enjoy.

An ambitious but ultimately underwhelming story of immigration and labor.